Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trademark
by
Plaintiffs are the owners of the heavily advertised Select Comfort and Sleep Number brands of adjustable air mattresses and defendants are online retailers of their own brand of lower-priced adjustable beds. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants used similar and identical marks in several different capacities online to sell competing products, and that defendants compounded internet-related confusion by making fraudulent misrepresentations and failing to dispel confusion when consumers contacted defendants' call centers. After a trial resulted in a mixed verdict, both sides appealed.The Eighth Circuit reversed and concluded that the district court erred by finding as a matter of law that the relevant consumers were sophisticated and that a theory of initial-interest confusion could not apply. Therefore, the court concluded, based on Insty*Bit, Inc. v. Poly-Tech Indus., 95 F.3d 663, 671–72 (8th Cir. 1996), that limiting the infringement instruction to require confusion at the time of purchase was error. Given the strength of plaintiffs' evidence on the issue of confusion, the court cannot conclude that the summary judgment and instructional errors were harmless.In regard to the false advertising claim, the court concluded that the district court erred by instructing the jury in a manner that shifted the burden of proof on the materiality element based on a finding of literal falsity. Furthermore, based on the specific jury forms returned in this case, the court did not find the error to be harmless as to those claims where plaintiffs prevailed. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for a new trial on the seven false advertising claims on which plaintiffs prevailed. In regard to the remaining issues, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its substantial discretion in refusing to permit amendment of the counterclaim after the close of discovery and on the eve of trial; the court noted that an expert's testimony as to the structure and meaning of survey evidence or other factual matters generally should not usurp the court's role in defining the law for the jury; the court concluded that any infirmities as to the demonstration bed go to the weight rather than the admissibility of the evidence; and the jury instructions did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof on defendants' cross claim seeking a declaration that plaintiffs held no trademark rights in the phrase "NUMBER BED." View "Select Comfort Corp. v. Baxter" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in this trademark infringement case over the word mark "Lawn Managers." In this case, the licensing agreement was the result of a divorce and provided that husband and wife would, in effect, operate parallel, almost identical companies using the same name and similar equipment and vehicles but in different zip codes.The court agreed with the district court that Progressive has not met its high burden of proving that Lawn Managers abandoned its mark through naked licensing. Therefore, the district court properly found that wife could reasonably rely on husband's own quality control efforts and thus met the duty of control as licensor. The court held that the terms of the licensing agreement, combined with the couple's successful operation of the Lawn Managers business for over 17 years and the lack of any evidence of quality deviations at Progressive, were sufficient to support the district court's finding of reasonable reliance. Furthermore, the court held that the district court was within its discretion to conclude that the Lawn Managers mailer did not support Progressive's unclean hands defense. Finally, the district court did not clearly err in its damages award. View "Lawn Managers, Inc. v. Progressive Lawn Managers, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Safeway and its proprietor filed suit against DPB and its owner, alleging federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act and deceptive trade practices under Minnesota state law. Safeway claimed that DPB infringed two unregistered description trademarks -- "Rent My Party Bus" and "952 Limo Bus." The district court permanently enjoined defendants from using the trademarks or related domain names, keywords, or hashtags in connection with the advertisement, marketing, or sale of transportation services. However, the district court denied plaintiffs' requests for disgorgement of profits and attorney's fees.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court's finding of no actual confusion and thus, no unjust enrichment, was not clearly erroneous; the district court did not erroneously place the burden of proof on Safeway to prove unjust enrichment; and Safeway bore the burden of proving DPB's sales. The court also held that the district court's findings, when taken in their totality, support its conclusion that Safeway is not entitled to a disgorgement of profits based on deterrence. In this case, the district court actually found that DPB held a good faith belief in its right to use the trademarks. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Safeway's request for disgorgement of profits, and did not abuse its discretion in denying Safeway's request for attorney's fees. View "Safeway Transit LLC v. Discount Party Bus, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting SnugglyCat's motion to voluntarily dismiss this Lanham Act action without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). The court rejected appellants' contention that the district court failed to consider their argument regarding legal prejudice; the court saw no need to adopt a per se rule that would bar dismissal without prejudice in all cases in which a plaintiff has sued under a fee-shifting statute and found that the district court did not commit an error of law; and the district court did not commit a clear error of judgment where it considered all the relevant factors, including SnugglyCat's purported reason for seeking dismissal of the action without prejudice—its inability as a small company to sustain the cost of continuing suit—and expressly found the motion to have been made in good faith. View "SnugglyCat, Inc. v. Opfer Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

by
This consolidated appeal stemmed from the trusts' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the use of Phyllis Schafly's intellectual property. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1) and held that the trusts would not be entitled to the traditional presumption of irreparable harm in trademark cases because they did not promptly seek preliminary injunctive relief concerning the trademark infringement, regardless of whether the presumption survived recent Supreme Court decisions emphasizing the movant's burden to show that irreparable injury was likely in the absence of an injunction. The court dismissed the appeal of the order staying litigation for lack of appellate jurisdiction, because the order was temporary and did not effectively end the litigation. View "Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust v. Cori" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Iowa Parts in a trademark secrets and intellectual property action brought by CMI. The court held that CMI could not establish its burden of proving that the discovery rule saves its statutory cause of action because it was on inquiry notice that Iowa Parts was making its component parts, possibly with its engineering documents and other trade secrets, starting in 2002 and continuing thereafter. The court also held that CMI was on notice of a possible problem as early as 2002 on the conversion claim. Finally, the district court properly granted summary judgment on the unjust enrichment claim where an equitable claim could not provide alternative relief. View "CMI Roadbuilding, Inc. v. Iowa Parts, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Hargis in an action brought by B&B, alleging a trademark infringement claim involving B&B's SEALTIGHT mark and Hargis' SEALTITE mark. The court found no plain error in the district court's determination that B&B willfully failed to disclose a prior adverse decision and thus the district court did not err in its determination that B&B committed fraud on the PTO and that Hargis was therefore entitled to the affirmative defense of fraud under 15 U.S.C. 1115(b)(1). The court also held that B&B's claims were barred by collateral estoppel because B&B failed to present evidence of any significant intervening factual change from the date of the 2000 jury verdict. In regard to Hargis' cross-appeal, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Hargis' motion for attorney fees and nontaxable litigation costs. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding this an unexceptional case. View "B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

by
SMRI filed suit alleging that defendants, through their participation in the selling of Rushmore's unlicensed motorcycle rally-related products, had violated several provisions of the Lanham Act and related South Dakota statutes. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court did not err in declining to apply licensee estoppel against defendants; the trial record did not support a finding that SMRI owned the rally or its intellectual property, that SMRI and the Chamber before it have been the substantially exclusive users of the word "Sturgis" in relation to either the rally or rally-related goods and services, or that relevant consumers associate the word "Sturgis" with a single source of goods and services in any context; and thus the court reversed the jury's finding that defendants diluted the "Sturgis" mark and vacated the jury's finding that defendants engaged in cybersquatting.The court also held that defendants should have been granted judgment as a matter of law on the infringement claims relating to SMRI's unregistered marks, "Sturgis Motorcycle Rally" and "Sturgis Rally & Races," because the jury was not presented with sufficient evidence to find that the marks had acquired secondary meaning. Finally, the evidence at trial supported the jury's finding that SMRI's mark "Sturgis Bike Week" was valid; there was sufficient evidence to show that SMRI's "Monahan Composite Mark" was widely used in connection with the rally and that defendants' infringement of the mark was willful and intentional; the differences between the shot glass's design and the Monahan mark were so obvious that the jury did not have any basis in the record for its finding of a counterfeit; SMRI's claims for deceptive practices, false advertising and unfair competition were not time-barred; the district court did not err in granting judgment as a matter of law to JRE; the court vacated the district court's order granting defendants the defenses of laches and acquiescence; and the court reversed and remanded the permanent injunction. View "Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc. v. Rushmore Photo & Gifts, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Bruce Munro and his studio appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint against Lucy and the denial of his motion to amend his complaint. Munro's claims stemmed from Lucy's "Light Forest" exhibition and advertising campaign that infringed on Munro's works. The Eighth Circuit affirm the district court's decision to dismiss Munro's trade dress, fraud, and tortious interference claims as well as its denial of Munro's motion to amend these claims because the proposed amendments were futile. The court held, however, that Munro sufficiently pleaded a trademark claim so as to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Munro v. Lucy Activewear, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit considered this trademark dispute on remand. In the previous appeal, the court asked the district court to address state-law questions pertaining to the availability of attorney's fees and the ownership of a contested trademark. The district court entered orders on those questions and this appeal followed. The court held that the district court erred in determining plaintiff was entitled to attorney's fees under Iowa common law. In this case, defendant's misrepresentation to the patent office was improper, but its conduct did not rise to the level of being tyrannical, cruel, or harsh under Iowa common law. Finally, the briefs and oral arguments lead the court to conclude that defendant owned a license to use the PAKSTER mark in connection with injection-molded chicken coops, injection-molded egg baskets, and injection-molded egg flats. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "East Iowa Plastics, Inc. v. PI, Inc." on Justia Law