United States Supreme Court

TrademarkUnder the Lanham Act, before any trademark registration will issue, an application must first be published for opposition. This publication provides the public with an opportunity to challenge registration of a trademark by another party. An opposition action is an adversarial proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) and though not generally as lengthy or formal as litigation in the courts, follows essentially the same process. While there are a number of bases for an opposition, the most common is based on an allegation from one party that the trademark of the other party is likely to be confused with its own. Oppositions involve pleadings, discovery, depositions, legal briefs and ultimately oral arguments in front of a panel of three administrative judges of the TTAB. This panel ultimately issues a written opinion and a decision as to whether the opposed mark is or is not entitled to registration.

An opposition action is very narrow, however, as it only relates to the question of whether a particular trademark is entitled to registration. Issues outside that (such as any actual infringement of a trademark or damages) are not addressed. Historically, those issues are addressed via trademark infringement litigation in federal court. There has always been a question, however, as to the impact of a TTAB decision regarding registrability of a given trademark in any other trademark litigation between the parties at issue. If the TTAB determines that A’s trademark is confusingly similar to B’s, does that automatically mean that A’s mark is confusingly similar to B’s in the courts? Per the recent B.B. Hardware v. Hargis Industries decision, the answer is potentially yes.

Facts of the Case


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7122084695_11f7a0566e_zKimble v. Marvel Enterprises involved a device that allowed its user to shoot “webs” a la Spider-Man. Kimble invented and obtained a patent for this web-shooting device and tried to sell or license that patent to Marvel Entertainment, the creator/owner of Spider-Man. Marvel declined, but ultimately came to market with its own “Web Blaster,” which similarly allowed its user to shoot webs a la Spider-Man. Kimble brought an action for patent infringement which was settled by Marvel purchasing Kimble’s patent for a lump sum plus a royalty on future sales of the “Web Blaster.” The agreement was open ended as there was no termination to the royalty payment.

Are Royalties Due After Patent Expires?

Kimble’s patent expired in 2010. Thereafter, Marvel brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that it was no longer required to pay royalties on an expired patent. Marvel’s position was based on Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U.S. 29 (1964), where the Supreme Court held that a licensor is not entitled to patent royalties from a licensee after expiration of the licensed patent. The district court agreed with Marvel, finding no distinction between the fact that Brulotte involved a patent license agreement where the party receiving royalties retained ownership of the patent at issue and the Kimble/Marvel relationship where the party receiving royalties no longer owned the patent at issue. Thus, Brulotte controlled and no further royalties were required after expiration of the Kimble patent. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed reluctantly, agreeing that Brulotte was controlling precedent but felt that the decision was “counterintuitive.”

Decision


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Gavel iconContinuing with our series reporting on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, today we will decipher the impact of the second patent case, Commil v. Cisco, and the claim of “induced infringement.”

Belief in Patent Invalidity is not a Defense

The Commil v. Cisco decision involved the issue of what knowledge is required by a defendant in a claim of induced patent infringement. Briefly, a party can be liable for directly infringing the patent of another, where it utilizes patented matter of another without authorization, or by inducing a third party to infringe a patent of another. Induced infringement often involves situations where a party may simply provide the means to third-parties and their use of those means result in infringement of a patent.

Facts of the Case


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