Last year’s Supreme Court’s decision in B&B Hardware raised the stakes in opposition proceedings when it stated that TTAB rulings may have preclusive effects in subsequent federal district court litigation. As litigants and practitioners are still assessing the consequences of that landmark decision, an unexpected confrontation took place between the Board and the Federal District.
A federal district court in the Northern District of California has recently given litigants in trademark counterfeiting cases guidance on where wrongful seizure claims under the ex parte provisions of the Lanham Act may be brought. The court ruled in United Tactical Systems, LLC v. Real Action Paintball, Inc. that wrongful seizure claims may be brought in any federal court, and not just the court that ordered the seizure. The case should be watched by accused infringers who have been the target of an ex parte seizure under the Lanham Act.
Illinois Court Refuses to Release Frozen Funds or Enlarge Bond Amount in Trademark Counterfeiting Case
A federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois has refused a request by certain defendants accused of trademark counterfeiting to release funds frozen in PayPal accounts and to increase the amount of a bond posted by the plaintiff in the case. The case highlights an uptick in challenges to financial asset restraints by defendants and nonparties in trademark counterfeiting cases and the discretion courts have in setting an appropriate bond to protect defendants in such cases.
Court Orders Nonparty Bank to Produce Documents Said to be Located Abroad in Trademark Counterfeiting Case
After more than five years of litigating access to documents requested in a subpoena directed to a nonparty foreign bank, the district court in Gucci Am. Inc. v. Weixing Li has ordered the bank to produce the documents, despite objections from the bank that production would violate Chinese law. The decision written by Judge Sullivan of the Southern District of New York, is an important decision for brand owners seeking to obtain financial documentation related to the sale of allegedly counterfeit goods.
New York Real Property Owners at Risk for Exposure to Joint and Several Liability in Connection with Trademark Counterfeiting Taking Place on Their Property
Brand owners are increasingly asserting claims against owners of real property where alleged trademark counterfeiting is taking place. Three recent actions filed in the Southern District of New York, styled Michael Kors, LLC v. Mulberry Street Properties Corp., et. al., 15-cv-5504 (S.D.N.Y.); Michael Kors, LLC v. Canal Venture, Inc. et. al., 15-cv-5788 (S.D.N.Y.); and Michael Kors, LLC v. Mid Center Equities Associates, et. al., 15-cv-5856 (S.D.N.Y.), raise the question of when property owners/lessors can be held jointly and severally liable for damages resulting from the sale of counterfeit goods on their properties.
District Courts Adopting Middle Ground in Fashioning Statutory Damages Awards in Trademark Counterfeiting Cases
Two recent opinions, one from the Northern District of Illinois and another from the Southern District of New York, offer guidance to those electing statutory damages in lieu of actual damages and profits in trademark counterfeiting cases. The takeaway for litigators is that courts appear to be taking a middle ground in statutory damages awards, awarding $1 million per mark/good combination instead of the $2 million statutory maximum.
A group of brand owners has filed another complaint against eleven Alibaba and Taobao entities for claims including direct and contributory trademark counterfeiting and violations of the RICO statute. At issue is when and to what extent a service provider can be held liable for alleged trademark counterfeiting taking place on an online platform.
Registrations of non-traditional trademarks are uncommon, and often discussed only among legal scholars and in academic papers. A recent Wall Street Journal article, however, called attention to a growing trend in trademark law: registration of scents and fragrances. The article describes the efforts of CESI Chemical, Inc., a producer of solvents for the fracking industry, which filed an application to register the orange scent imbued in its chemical additives for its hydraulic fracturing fluid.
Case Highlight: California District Court Refuses to Stay Civil Case Pending Resolution of Potential Criminal Prosecution
In Sanrio, Inc. v. Ronnie Home Textile Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California recently refused to stay a civil case pending completion of a parallel criminal counterfeiting investigation. In Sanrio, the plaintiffs sued a corporation and two alleged principals for trademark infringement and other claims. The case was filed after law enforcement seized allegedly counterfeit goods offered for sale by the defendants and related evidence. The defendants argued that the civil case should be stayed because the seizure left them without means to substantively defend themselves. They further argued that allowing the civil case to go forward would implicate the individual defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights, though criminal charges had not been brought against them.
In a 7-2 split decision issued on March 24, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) rulings may have preclusive effects in subsequent federal district court litigation. The Court ruled that so long as the elements of issue preclusion are met, it is irrelevant that the TTAB is not an Article III court.