Author Archives: Douglas W. Lytle

Google & Trademark Genericide – Be Sure to Ask the Right Question

Genericide.  

It sounds like something you might put on your lawn to kill weeds. But in the world of brands and marketing, genericide is a killer of trademarks. It is what happens when a trademark becomes the common (generic) word for a product or service itself and is no longer protectable under trademark law.

Countless articles tell the stories of how trademarks lost their ability to distinguish the source of goods because they became generic. Examples include CELLOPHANE, LANOLIN, ESCALATOR, THERMOS, and ASPIRIN. See INTA’s Practical Tips on Avoiding Genericide.  

Genericide is one reason companies police how others use their trademarks. It is also a reason that companies create branding and trademark usage guidelines, like these for Intel, Apple, and Symantec. See also, A Guide to Proper Trademark Use.

Some guidelines, like those of Symantec, go beyond what to do, and explain why:

Proper usage aids consumers who depend upon Symantec’s goods and services and helps prevent Symantec Trademarks from losing their distinctiveness and becoming generic.

They may even explain what not to do:

Trademarks are adjectives and should be followed by the generic term they modify, such as “software” or “product”. Never use a trademark as a noun, a verb, or in the possessive form.

With all of this focus on how marks lose their distinctiveness by becoming generic, you may be thinking:

What is the deal with GOOGLE?

People seldom say, “Try searching for [whatever] using the Google search engine.” People instinctively shorten things and say, “Try googling it.” But shouldn’t that lead to Google becoming generic and incapable of serving as a trademark?

Not necessarily, said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in Elliott v. Google, Inc., No. 15-15809, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 8583 (9th Cir. May 16, 2017). There is more to it. You have to ask the right question, and that is the TAKE-AWAY at the end of this article.

Initially, explained the court, the mere fact that the public sometimes uses a trademark as the name for a unique product does not immediately render the mark generic. Rather, a trademark only becomes generic when the “primary significance of the registered mark to the relevant public” is as the name for a particular type of good or service irrespective of its source.

Courts make that determination by applying the “who-are-you/what-are-you” test:

If the relevant public primarily understands a mark as describing “who” a particular good or service is, or where it comes from, then the mark is still valid. But if the relevant public primarily understands a mark as describing “what” the particular good or service is, then the mark has become generic. In sum, we ask whether “the primary significance of the term in the minds of the consuming public is [now] the product [and not] the producer.”

In Elliott v. Google, seeking show that Google had become generic, Elliott focused on how google often is used as a verb. [Well-known dictionaries define google as a verb.] The Ninth Circuit court, however, found Elliott’s claim to be flawed for two reasons: (1) a claim of genericide must always relate to a particular type of good or service; and (2) use as a verb does not automatically constitute generic use.

Genericide Must Relate to a Particular Type of Good or Service

Relation to a particular type of good or service, the court said, is infused throughout several sections of the Lanham Act (federal trademark law). A mark can be canceled if it “becomes the generic name for the goods or services . . . for which it is registered.” “If the registered mark becomes the generic name for less than all of the goods or services for which it is registered, a petition to cancel the registration for only those goods or services may be filed.” The relevant question under the primary significance test is “whether the registered mark has become the generic name of [certain] goods or services.”  15 U.S.C. § 1064(3).

The court then added that such a relation requirement is necessary to maintain the viability of arbitrary marks as a protectable trademark category. In other words:

If there were no requirement that a claim of genericide relate to a particular type of good, then a mark like IVORY, which is “arbitrary as applied to soap,” could be cancelled outright because it is “generic when used to describe a product made from the tusks of elephants.”

Trademark law recognizes that a term may be unprotectable with regard to one type of good, and protectable with regard to another type of good. Thus, the court said the very existence of arbitrary marks as a valid trademark category supports the conclusion that a claim of genericide must relate to a particular type of good or service.

Use as a Verb Does Not Automatically Constitute Generic Use

Moving to the second point, the court said a trademark may be used as a verb, or even as a noun, without becoming generic. In connection with Lanham Act amendments, the court noted the following from a Senate Report:

A trademark can serve a dual function—that of [naming] a product while at the same time indicating its source. Admittedly, if a product is unique, it is more likely that the trademark adopted and used to identify that product will be used as if it were the identifying name of that product. But this is not conclusive of whether the mark is generic.

In this way, the court said Congress has “instructed us that a speaker might use a trademark as a noun and still use the term in a source-identifying trademark sense.” That was the case in Coca-Cola Co. v. Overland, Inc., 692 F.2d 1250 (9th Cir. 1982), where Coca-Cola had sued a restaurant (Overland) for trademark infringement, and Overland countered that COKE was generic, claiming that customers ordered “coke” only in a generic (“soda”) sense. The court rejected that argument, noting that the mere fact customers ordered “a coke,” i.e., used the mark as a noun, failed to show “what . . . customers [were] thinking,” or whether they had a particular source in mind.

To accept Elliott’s argument, the court said, would require “evidence regarding the customers’ inner thought processes.” The court explained further in a footnote:

We acknowledge that if a trademark is used as an adjective, it will typically be easier to prove that the trademark is performing a source-identifying function. If a speaker asks for “a Kleenex tissue,” it is quite clear that the speaker has a particular brand in mind. But we will not assume that a speaker has no brand in mind simply because he or she uses the trademark as a noun and asks for “a Kleenex.” Instead, the party bearing the burden of proof must offer evidence to support a finding of generic use.

Relating it to Google, the court said that just as a customer might use the noun “coke” with no particular cola beverage in mind, or with a Coca-Cola beverage in mind, an internet user might use the verb “google” with no particular search engine in mind, or with the Google search engine in mind.

While Elliott had amassed a mountain of evidence ranging from expert surveys to dictionaries, it all focused on the public using “google” as a verb, and did not show evidence of “google” being a generic name for internet search engines.

Elliott also argued there is no efficient alternative for the word “google” as a name for “the act” of searching the internet regardless of the search engine used. But the court convincingly disposed of that argument:

Elliott must show that there is no way to describe “internet search engines” without calling them “googles.” Because not a single competitor calls its search engine “a google,” and because members of the consuming public recognize and refer to different “internet search engines,” Elliott has not shown that there is no available substitute for the word “google” as a generic term.

THE TAKE-AWAY

Ultimately, Elliott lost by focusing on the wrong question. Elliott focused on whether the relevant public primarily uses the word “google” as a verb, when the real question was:

…whether the primary significance of the word “google” to the relevant public is as a generic name for internet search engines or as a mark identifying the Google search engine in particular. 

BONUS TIP FOR IP LITIGATORS

The opinion includes analysis of several consumer surveys offered by Elliott. The court noted that consumer surveys may be used to support a claim of genericide “so long as they are conducted according to accepted principles.”

Two of Elliott’s consumer surveys, however, were excluded because they were not conducted according to accepted principles:

Specifically, these surveys were designed and conducted by Elliott’s counsel, who is not qualified to design or interpret surveys… [and, even] if the surveys were admitted, Elliott’s counsel would need to withdraw in order to offer testimony on the survey results.

For the latter point, the court cited Ariz. R. Sup. Ct. 42, E.R. 3.7 (“A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness . . . .”); see also Model Rules of Professional Conduct 3.7.

In California, see Rule of Professional Conduct 5-210 Member as Witness; but also see proposed California Rule 3.7 Lawyer as Witness (On March 30, 2017, the State Bar submitted the proposed rules to the California Supreme Court).

 

 

Federal Court: No Heightened Pleading Standard Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act

Nice post by Eric Ostroff on a case involving pleading requirements (Iqbal/Twombly) under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Protecting Trade Secrets

As more plaintiffs bring claims under the shiny new Defend Trade Secrets Act, we continue to learn about how courts are interpreting this statute. On Tuesday, the District of New Jersey answered an open question: whether the statute, in conjunction with Twombly/Iqbal, requires a heightened pleading standard for misappropriation. In Chubb INA Holdings, Inc. v. Chang, the DNJ declined to apply such a standard. A copy of the opinion can be downloaded below.

In this case, Chubb sued its former employee and its competitor Endurance, alleging that the former employee worked with Endurance to solicit a large number of employees from Chubb’s real estate and hospitality division. The goal was to hire enough Chubb employees to create a “turnkey” operation for Endurance. In the process, Chubb alleges, the former employees took Chubb’s confidential information. Chubb sued for, among other things, violations of the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

The…

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Proving Trademark Infringement – Issues with Using Online Evidence of Confusion

On December 7, 2016, Eric Ball & William Pierog of Fenwick & West published a very useful and well-researched article, “Can Internet Comments and Search Results Prove Trademark Infringement?

The article explores what types of comments will and will not help prove confusion, backed by citations to particular cases in which the issues have arisen.

Some excerpts:

[O]nline comments… are not hearsay if they… are not offered for the truth of the matter asserted… [and instead…[are] offered to show assumed association between the parties.

…evidence that does show confusion about product source may only suggest that the internet user “appears to be someone so easily confused that even trademark law cannot protect her.”

…inattentiveness during purchasing decisions is relevant…[but] consumer inattentiveness at other times may not suggest product source confusion.

[Concerning search results as evidence of confusion]…Consumers expect a search to return unrelated products.

…evidence should be from relevant purchasers rather than vendors or third-party businesses.

 

A Business May Not Assign (an ITU Application), if the Assign(or) Has No Business

There’s an old saying: “A business with no sign is a sign of no business.”

In a recent dismissal order, the Northern District of California provided insight into the requirements for assigning an Intent-to-Use (ITU) trademark application when the assignment occurs before proof of actual use of the mark is filed with the USPTO.

Some use of a mark, sufficient to accrue some goodwill, is required before an Intent-to-Use trademark application may be assigned to another. 

This is a very important concept, because it can arise in many contexts, including:

  • two companies develop a similar new product both seek to use the same mark, and they resolve the conflict with an assignment of a pending ITU application;
  • assignments between related companies;
  • an individual files an application in his or her personal name instead of or before forming a corporate or other entity (discussed below); and
  • M&A transactions involving IP portfolios that include pending applications.

Background

Common law trademark rights arise from actual use of a mark on goods or in connection with services.  USPTO registration of a mark (providing nationwide rights) can occur only after a mark is used in interstate commerce.

If a mark is already in use when a trademark application is filed, the first use date is stated in the application, and the mark, specimen, description, and classes are reviewed by the trademark examiner.  Upon approval, the mark is published to see if anyone objects.  Barring a successful objection, the USTPO issues a registration certificate.

U.S. law also allows a trademark application to be filed based on Intent-to-Use (ITU), effectively allowing a mark to be reserved.  However, the USPTO will register a mark only after the ITU applicant shows actual use of the mark by filing an “allegation of use” — either an Amendment to Allege Use (before publication of the mark) or a Statement of Use (after publication).  If the mark ultimately is registered, the filing date of the ITU application becomes the constructive first use date. This gives the ITU applicant priority over others who started using the mark after the ITU application filing date (even though the ITU applicant had not actually used the mark in commerce at that time).  See why this matters here.

Assignments of ITU Trademark Applications

An ITU trademark application may be assigned to another before a registration issues if the requirements of 15 U.S.C. § 1060(a)(1) are met.  The requirements differ, however, depending on whether the assignment occurs before or after the ITU applicant files an allegation of use.

If the assignment occurs after the applicant has filed an allegation of use, the ITU application must be assigned in writing together with the goodwill of the business in which the mark is used, just as if the assignment occurred after the mark already had been registered.

If the assignment occurs before the applicant files an allegation of use, the law will allow an assignment only “to a successor to the business of the applicant, or portion thereof, to which the mark pertains, if that business is ongoing and existing.”

Stated another way, an ITU application may not be assigned before an allegation of use is filed, unless the ITU application is transferred with at least part of the applicant’s “ongoing and existing” business to which the mark pertains.  This prevents the trafficking or profiting from the sale of ITU applications, i.e., the buying and selling of “inchoate” marks which as of yet, have no real existence.

What does it mean to assign an ITU application “to a successor to the business of the applicant, or portion thereof, to which the mark pertains, if that business is ongoing and existing”? 

The Northern District of California recently addressed this in an order granting a motion to dismiss in Sebastian Brown Productions LLC v. Muzooka Inc. (N.D. Cal., Mar. 14, 2016, No. 15-CV-01720-LHK) 2016 WL 949004, at *8.

Plaintiff Sebastian Brown Productions (SBP) operates a digital media storefront MuZook at muzook.com.  SBP’s sole owner, Miller, in his individual capacity, had applied for the MUZOOK trademark under an ITU application.  A few weeks after filing, Miller assigned the ITU trademark application to SBP, “together with that part of [Miller’s] business to which the Marks pertain, which business is ongoing and existing, the goodwill of the business symbolized by the Marks, and all registrations and applications therefor.”

In 2014, SBP sued competitor Muzooka, Inc.  While the facts are more complex than stated here, in order to prevail, SBP needed to establish constructive-use priority over Muzooka, Inc., based on the date Miller filed the MUZOOK ITU application.

Since Miller had assigned the MUZOOK ITU application to SBP before filing an allegation of use, the dispute focused on whether SBP was truly a successor to an “ongoing and existing” business to which the MUZOOK mark pertained, for purposes of § 1060(a)(1). Turning to precedent from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the court discussed various cases applying this language, and distilled a few principles:

  • the “ongoing and existing” business exception to § 1060(a)(1) did not alter the requirement that the trademark assignment include the good will of the business in which the mark is used; and
  • an assignment of an “ongoing and existing” business involves more than the assignment of goodwill alone.  Hence, an assignment is void if it transfers only the intent-to-use application and goodwill, without any of the applicant’s ongoing and existing business.

Ultimately, the court determined that some use of a mark, sufficient to accrue some goodwill, is required before an ITU application may be assigned.  It is not enough to simply restate the language of § 1060(a)(1) in an assignment — there must be some goodwill or ongoing and existing business to transfer.

“Goodwill” generally has been described as “the advantage or benefit, which is acquired by an establishment, beyond the mere value of the capital, stock, funds, or property employed therein, in consequence of the general public patronage and encouragement which it receives from constant or habitual customers,” which accrues only through use of the mark.  As the court noted in citing Pfizer, Inc. v. Hamerschlag, 2001 WL 1182865, at *4 (TTAB Sept. 27, 2001) (non-precedential):  “Unwittingly or not, a party who has no business except obtaining a trademark on the basis of intent to use and who prior to starting a business assigns that application to another falls squarely into the trademark trafficking activity that [§ 1060(a)(1)] is intended to preclude.”

Although Miller used sufficient language to transfer an ITU trademark application before the filing of an allegation of use, Miller had nothing to transfer — no goodwill or ongoing and existing business.  SBP did not allege that Miller had provided any services under the MUZOOK mark; invested money in the development of the MUZOOK mark; publicly displayed the MUZOOK mark; had any business assets; or engaged in any business activities. There was nothing alleging that Miller had used the MUZOOK mark, prior to the assignment, in a manner that established goodwill or any ongoing and existing business. Thus, since no allegations could establish transfer of goodwill or an ongoing and existing business as required by § 1060(a)(1), SBP could not establish the constructive-use date needed to demonstrate priority over Mazooka, Inc., and the case was dismissed.

While this assignment issue is important in many contexts, counsel and DIY trademark applicants should use caution when assigning an individual’s ITU trademark application to his/her business entity before an Amendment to Allege Use or a Statement of Use has been filed with the USPTO.

10-22-2016 Addition:   For further application and analysis of these concepts, see Sorry, Apple, Assignment of ITU Applications Isn’t MAGIC by Wes Anderson at DuetsBlog (http://www.duetsblog.com/2016/10/articles/advertising/sorry-apple-assignment-of-itu-applications-isnt-magic/)

Top 10 Trademark Tips for Nonprofits

1.  Conduct professionally-assisted trademark searches before adopting new marks. Choose distinctive protectable marks.  Make sure domain names are available for the marks before choosing them.  Register marks with the USPTO.  Consider registering the marks in other countries as well.  Ensure the marks are applied for and registered in the name of your organization and not individuals within the organization.  Comply with the requirements to maintain those marks.  Adopt a system to ensure all of the organization’s marks remain continuously in use.

2.  Register important domain names.  Don’t let the organization’s important domain name registrations lapse for failure to renew or re-register.

3.  Register important social media account names on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Develop policies and rules for social media posts made on behalf of the organization.

4.  Learn the basics about trademarks and train employees, volunteers, members, chapters, licensees, affiliates, sponsors etc., about the proper use of the organization’s marks.  Use the proper symbols (TM, SM, or ®) next to the organization’s marks.  Consider creating a Style Guide showing how to use the organization’s marks consistently and in the proper form.  Every nonprofit organization should at least have a simple Style Guide.

5.  Don’t allow employees, volunteers, members, chapters, licensees, affiliates, sponsors, etc., to register the organization’s marks (or confusingly similar marks).

6.  Monitor USPTO filings, social media channels, and the internet (set Google Alerts, do periodic searches, check for domain names, etc.) for use of the organization’s marks (and confusingly similar marks).  Develop an internal system for handling issues of potential infringement.  Listen and watch for diversion of donations or confusion as shown by misdirected email, mail, complaints, donor communications, and donor patterns.  Identify and train personnel to recognize signs of potential confusion.

7.  Educate donors, potential anonymous donors, and those who advise them (estate planning attorneys etc.) about the organization’s correct name, so donors don’t write checks to or leave bequests to the “Animal Shelter” – thus creating ambiguity and exposing the organization to contested claims.  Create and disseminate materials that help planned-giving participants correctly name the organization in their estate planning documents.  Make it easy for donors and their advisors.

8.  Require written signed licenses from affiliates and other third parties who will use the organization’s marks.  Ensure the licenses put appropriate limits on how the marks can and cannot be used.  Include terms under which the license can be terminated.  Inspect and monitor the quality of goods and/or services provided under the marks.

9.  Consult with knowledgeable nonprofit entity counsel to assure licensing, sponsorship, co-ventures, cause marketing, and related activities fit within recognized exemptions and do not give rise to undesired tax consequences or jeopardize the organization’s exempt status.

10.  If the organization receives a cease-and-desist letter alleging trademark infringement or other claims, contact an attorney before responding.  Priority of use, registration, public relations, confusion factors, and other issues must be reviewed and considered before responding.  Disputes often can be resolved short of a lawsuit.

Sedlik’s Multiplier & Actual Damages for Copyright Infringement

Sedlik’s Multiplier – an acceptable use of a multiplier as part of calculating fair market value to account for factors such as exclusivity or rarity when determining actual damages under the Copyright Act.

Using an electron microscope, in the mid-1990s, photographer Andrew Paul Leonard created colorized stem cell images from cell samples he obtained from doctors, scientists, and researchers.  Leonard built a profitable business licensing rare stem cell images, and received a range of fees for different types of licenses.  One appeared on the cover of TIME.

Defendant Stemtech sells nutritional supplements through thousands of distributors. Stemtech contacted Leonard about licensing his stem cell images, because as Stemtech employees explained, “using these images was important to Stemtech’s business.”  Stemtech declined to license Leonard’s image for website use because “the price was too high,” but chose to license an image for use twice in its internal magazine.

Leonard sued Stemtech for copyright infringement in Delaware federal district court when he discovered that Stemtech had vastly exceeded the scope of the license.  Because Leonard had not registered his copyright sufficiently in advance to seek statutory damages, he had to prove actual damages under the Copyright statute.  See 17 U.S.C. §504 Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits.  At trial, the jury awarded Leonard $1.6 million in actual damages.

Stemtech appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing among other things, that the award of actual damages was grossly excessive and that the district court improperly allowed the testimony of Leonard’s damages expert, Jeff Sedlik.  The Third Circuit rejected Stemtech’s arguments, and sent the case back to the district court to determine whether interest should be added as well.  See Leonard v. Stemtech, __ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 4446560, at *1 (3d Cir. Aug. 24, 2016).

[There is some good discussion of secondary infringement, including application of and distinctions between contributory infringement liability and vicarious liability.]

This post focuses on the Third Circuit’s discussion of methods for calculating actual damages under the Copyright Act, its review the District Court’s decision to permit Leonard’s damages expert to testify, and its evaluation of whether the $1.6 million dollar award was grossly excessive.

Methods for Calculating Actual Damages under the Copyright Act [§ 504(b)]

The Copyright Act allows a copyright owner to recover actual damages resulting from infringement.  It usually involves determining the loss in fair market value of the copyright, measured by the profits lost due to the infringement or by the value of the use of the copyrighted work to the infringer.  The primary measure is the injury to the market value of the copyrighted work at the time of the infringement.  Case law describes two permissible methods for determining damages:

(1) calculating the fair market value of the licensing fees the owner was entitled to charge for such use;

or

(2) calculating damages based on the plaintiff’s own past licensing fees.

The District Court’s Decision to Permit Leonard’s Damages Expert to Testify

Leonard hired a photography expert, Jeff Sedlik, to provide testimony regarding Leonard’s actual damages.  Stemtech filed a motion to exclude Sedlik’s testimony (a Daubert motion).  The district court, denied Stemtech’s motion because:  (1) Sedlik’s method for calculating actual damages using fair market value, as opposed to past licensing history, was reliable; (2) there was a sufficient factual basis for his calculation; and (3) there was a fit between the facts of the case and Sedlik’s damages calculation.

The Third Circuit agreed.  Sedlik had adopted a recognized method – the fair market value approach.  Stemtech’s disagreements with Sedlik’s calculation methodology and assumptions about which images and uses were similar to those of Leonard, went to the weight the jury may give Sedlik’s expert testimony, but were not reasons to keep the information from the jury.

Excessiveness of the $1.6 Million Damage Award by the Jury

The Third Circuit noted that courts will respect a jury verdict unless it is so grossly excessive that it shocks the judicial conscience, or it relies on an impermissible basis.

The Third Circuit examined Sedlik’s expert damages opinion, breaking it down as follows:

  • Sedlik surveyed four stock photo agencies to obtain image licensing rates for uses similar to the infringing uses.  These fees factored in the image size, form of media, size of audience, geographical scope, placement, number of appearances, and length of the license.
  • Sedlik averaged the quotes provided by the agencies and arrived at benchmark license fees for each usage, in the range of $1,277.10 to $2,569.46. Sedlik then assigned an applicable fee to each of the 92 unauthorized usages, and calculated the sum of those fees to arrive a fair market value of $215,767.65 in total.
  • Sedlik then adjusted the benchmark amount to account for scarcity—the rarity of stem cell images—and exclusivity—that is, how Stemtech’s extensive use would be akin to an exclusive license that would eliminate or reduce licensing revenue from other sources and/or decrease the value of Leonard’s work.
  • This adjustment to the benchmark took the form of a “premium” or multiplier of three to five times the benchmark for scarcity, and a multiplier of 3.75 to 8.75 times the benchmark for exclusivity of Leonard’s images during the infringement period.  That yielded an actual damages range of $1.4 million to nearly $3 million.

Stemtech argued that Sedlik’s use of multipliers effectively resulted in a jury award that included punitive damages.  Since punitive damages are not an available remedy under the Copyright Act (i.e., an impermissible basis), Stemtech argued, the jury’s award was excessive.

In rejecting Stemtech’s argument, the Third Circuit distinguished Sedlik’s multiplier from case law finding multipliers to be impermissibly punitive.

The Third Circuit first recognized case law rejecting punitive multipliers because “[t]he value of what was illegally taken is not determined by multiplying it,” and where a multiplier amounts to a “fee for unauthorized usage” over and above what “would otherwise represent a fair and reasonable licensing fee for the infringed material.”

Sedlik’s multiplier, the court held, was different.  It was not related to unauthorized use of the images (it was not an “infringer’s penalty”).  Rather, it was part of calculating fair market value.  The sum calculated from the stock photo agency rates did not represent a full calculation of the fair market value of Leonard’s images because the stock agency rates yielded a benchmark that did not account for scarcity and exclusivity.  Sedlik’s multipliers reflected a premium that, according to Sedlik, the market would find acceptable given the scarcity and exclusivity of the images as compared to the images for which he had secured rates for comparative purposes.  The fair market value calculation was complete only after those additional factors (scarcity and exclusivity) were applied.

Because “Stemtech presented no evidence or methodology to cast doubt on the use of multipliers to account for factors relevant to a final fair market value,” neither the district court nor the jury had any basis to discount Sedlik’s testimony.  And without evidence that the scarcity and exclusivity multipliers were punitive as opposed to being valid factors for calculating fair market value, the Third Circuit could not say the jury’s verdict was based on an improper consideration.

Nor could the Third Circuit conclude that the jury’s verdict was grossly excessive.  Unrebutted expert testimony provided a basis for a fair market value that included a benchmark for similar but less unique images, and a range for a premium reflecting the rarity of Leonard’s image and its unusually widespread use in Stemtech’s materials. Sedlik provided a multiplier of three to five times the benchmark for scarcity and 3.75 to 8.75 times for exclusivity, and jury returned a verdict of $1.6 million, which was at the lower end of Sedlik’s range.

Accordingly, because the jury’s damages award was tethered to the record, and Stemtech presented no alternative calculations, the damages award could not be reversed as excessive.

THE TAKE-AWAYS

A damages expert may use multiplier as part of calculating fair market value to account for factors such as exclusivity or rarity, as long as it is not essentially a “fee for unauthorized usage.”

Whether the stock agency rates were truly comparable to Leonard’s images, whether the stock photos were actually licensed by paid customers at those rates, whether taking an average of selected licensing rates was reliable, whether issues like scarcity and exclusivity (or either of them) were already taken into account in the stock photo rates, or whether the market would find premiums for scarcity and exclusivity acceptable – those were all issues Stemtech was free explore when cross-examining Sedlik, or with Stemtech’s own expert (if it had one).  Yet, Sedlik’s testimony went largely unrebutted.  Stemtech did not cross-examine Sedlik about his use of these premiums and Stemtech did not present its own expert to rebut Sedlik’s opinions.

Stemtech instead relied heavily on its ability to exclude Sedlik’s expert damages testimony.  As a back-up, it sought to convince the court (and jury) that license fees Leonard actually charged his clients over fifteen years and the fees that Leonard quoted Stemtech were the only viable measures of Leonard’s actual damages.

According to the Third Circuit, however, Stemtech had cited “no authority requiring the use of this method as opposed to the fair market value approach, and case law on this subject supports using the fair market value.”

Ultimately, Stemtech made three key decisions:  (1) to rely on its ability to have the Sedlik expert opinions excluded, (2) to rely on Leonard’s past licensing history as the only method of calculating Leonard’s actual damages, and (3) to proceed without its own damages expert to counter Sedlik’s methodology and opinions.

Combined, these decisions amounted to an all-or-nothing damages strategy, which proved perilous when the jury chose “all.”

The “Top” Copyright and Trademark Articles Collection

Here’s a collection of links to “Top” articles discussing tips, benefits, traps, warnings, distinctions, myths, and explanations of copyrights and trademarks:

Top 10 Benefits of Trademark Registration

The Top Ten Mistakes Made by Trademark Owners

Top Ten Trademark Tips for Every Business

Missing the Mark: The Top 10 Trademark Mistakes in Advertising Campaigns

Top 7 Costly Mistakes to Avoid with Trademarks

Top Ten Most Important Trademark Cases

Top Ten Copyright Myths

The Top 10 of Copyright

Top Ten IP Concerns When Working With Independent Contractors

Top Ten (Actually Eleven) Copyright And Trademark Tips For Nonprofits

Top Ten Intellectual Property (IP) Law Traps

Top 10 Things Every Artist Needs to Know About Copyright and Trademark

 

[Matterhorn image courtesy of  Pixabay -under Creative Commons CC0]