Contract Interpretation

The Compak Cos., LLC v. Johnson, No 03 C 7427 & 08 C 4665, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Jun. 1, 2009) (Grady, J.).
Judge Grady accepted the bankruptcy court’s recommendations, with some modifications, and granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff The Compak Companies’ (“TCC”) claims for legal title to the patents in suit and for infringement of those patents, all related to a container for holding wine and communion wafers for religious services. BMJ Partners purchased the assets of Compak Corp. (“Compak”) in a bankruptcy sale. BMJ assigned the assets to TCC. TCC alleged that Compak wrongly licensed the patents in suit to DuoTech Holdings. DuoTech was identified in the bankruptcy proceeding as a party to an executory contract identified as a patent license. The Court noted that the bankruptcy court had a right to extinguish DuoTech’s license and transfer Compak’s assets free of the license, so long as DuoTech was given notice of the sale. But DuoTech was not provided notice of the sale, as required by the bankruptcy law. TCC argued that DuoTech had sufficient notice because various people related to DuoTech received notice in other capacities. But the Court held that DuoTech’s President was served notice of the bankruptcy filing not the sale and the other individuals were not proven to have a sufficient relationship to DuoTech to create notice. As a result, DuoTech did not have sufficient notice and the license was, therefore, not terminated by the bankruptcy sale.

Continue Reading Lack of Notice Voids Bankruptcy Sale as to Patent Licenses

Bral Corp. v. CMN Comps. Inc., No. 07 C 7029, 2008 WL 2062494 (N.D. Ill. May 13, 2008) (Gettleman, J.).
Judge Gettleman denied defendant CMN’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), (6) & (7) motion to dismiss. Plaintiff Bral alleged that it was the exclusive supplier, with limited exceptions, for certain cartridges third party Johnstown used in its patented MegaFlow Door System for coal-carrying railroad cars. Despite knowledge of the exclusive relationship, CMN allegedly offered to provide Johnstown the cartridges at reduced prices, thereby interfering with Bral’s contract with Johnstown.
First, CMN argued that the claim should be dismissed because it was not ripe until Bral resolved its breach of contract dispute with Johnstown. But it was sufficient that Bral pled a breach. Bral need not sue Johnstown to make its claim, it just had to prove the agreement was breached.
Second, CMN argued that the claim should be dismissed for failure to join necessary party Johnstown pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b). But the Court held that Johnstown was not a required party. The case could be resolved without Johnstown. And neither Johnstown nor CMN would be exposed to multiple inconsistent judgments without Johnstown. Furthermore, Johnstown had shown no interest in being joined. And the case’s outcome would not affect Johnstown’s ability to defend itself in subsequent cases.
Third, the Court held that Bral met notice pleading standards for each element of its claim. Bral was not required to plead specific facts providing that CMN’s actions were “wrongful,” just that CMN’s actions were wrongful.

Continue Reading Patents Licensor Not Required Party for Tortious Interference with Contract Claim

Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Elecs., No. 06-937, 553 U.S. ___ (2008).
The Supreme Court concluded its latest review of the patent laws Monday when Justice Thomas delivered the Court’s succinct, unanimous decision in Quanta v. LG. Client obligations this week prevent me from providing a detailed analysis today. But, no surprise, there is plenty of commentary out there already. For more about decision, check out:
* 271 Patent Blog
* Agricultural Law
* FileWrapper
* IP Thinktank
* Patent Docs
* Patently-O
* WSJ Law Blog

Continue Reading Quanta v. LG: Patent Exhaustion

Junction Solutions, LLC v. MBS Dev., Inc., No. 06 C 1632, 2007 WL 4233995 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 20, 2007) (Gottschall, J.).*
Judge Gottschall denied defendant’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) motion to dismiss plaintiff’s trade secret misappropriation complaint based upon the parties’ prior settlement agreement and resulting dismissal with prejudice by the District of Colorado. While the alleged misappropriation was the same — defendant employees leaving plaintiff to start their own competing software company — the use of the trade secrets was different. In the Colorado case, defendants allegedly harmed plaintiff by starting a competitor using plaintiff’s trade secrets. In this case, the alleged harm was developing competing software, after the Colorado settlement and dismissal. Claim preclusion, therefore, did not apply. Issue preclusion did not apply because the Colorado court did not make any substantive final judgments. The settlement agreement could have barred plaintiff’s claim, but the agreement’s release expressly excluded claims arising after the agreement’s effective date.
* Click here for more on this case in the Blog’s archives.

Continue Reading Different Harms Allow Re-Litigation of Same TS Misappropriation

Telewizja Polska USA, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite Corp., No. 04 C 3293, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Oct. 30, 2007) (Guzman, J.).
Judge Guzman adopted Magistrate Judge Keys’s Report and Recommendation in its entirety, awarding plaintiff all of the approximately $800,000 in attorney’s fees and costs plaintiff sought pursuant to the fee-shifting provision in the parties’ agreement and Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d). At trial, plaintiff sought approximately $2.8M for its breach of contract claim and approximately $5.8M for its unjust enrichment claim – the claims were plead in the alternative. The jury awarded plaintiff approximately $1.4M on the breach of contract claim. The jury also awarded defendant $1 in compensatory damages and approximately $18,000 in punitive damages on defendant’s defamation counterclaim. Defendant argued that plaintiff was not the prevailing party, as required by Rule 54(d) and, therefore, should not be awarded its fees and costs or, at least, should be awarded a reduced amount.
But the Court held that plaintiff prevailed by winning one of its major claims, even though the contract claim was worth less than the unjust enrichment claim, based upon plaintiff’s analysis. Additionally, the $1.4M jury award based upon a $7M demand was sufficient to be considered prevailing. The Court noted that parties have been considered prevailing when a jury awarded even 10% of plaintiff’s demand. The Court also suggested that the outcome might have been different if plaintiff had lost on the claim which created the Court’s federal question jurisdiction. But in this case, jurisdiction was based upon diversity. Finally, the Court denied defendant’s request to reduce counsel’s hours or rates because defendant previously agreed not to challenge the reasonableness of the fees.

Continue Reading Plaintiff Can be “Prevailing Party” if Jury Awards Even 10% of Plaintiff’s Demand

Last week the intellectual property world obsessed over injunctions – specifically, a preliminary injunction hearing in the Eastern District of Virginia resulting in an injunction against the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s (“PTO”) new continuation rules. There was a lot of analysis about the injunction, including live blogging by Patent Practice Center Patent Blog and a lot of post-injunction analysis by, among others: 271 Patent Blog; FileWrapper; Patent Baristas; Patent Docs (and here); Patent Prospector; PHOSITA; Patently-O; WSJ Law Blog; and Washington State Patent Law Blog. For those of you who have no idea what a continuation is or just do not care about the particulars of the rules, I promise that I am done with patent continuations for this post. Honestly, I find the rules rather tedious myself. I prefer to focus on litigating patents, rather than the PTO’s prosecution rules. So, today we talk about injunctions:
According to TechCrunch, Patent Monkey received a permanent injunction when it was sold to the Internet Real Estate Group. But Patent Monkey’s patent search technology will see its injunction lifted when it is used on Hopefully, for those like me who enjoyed it, Patent Monkey’s Infinite Monkey Theorem Blog will also see its injunction lifted.
Virtually Blind has an interesting report on Second Life’s* new Patent & Trademark Office, the SLPTO. No word on whether the SLPTO and the Second Life legal system generally will allow for any permanent injunctions. Right now it appears that the SLPTO will be heavily skewed toward copyright and trademark, which makes sense in a virtual world. And before we learn whether the SLPTO has any enforcement mechanisms, Blawg IT is offering to represent virtual clients before the SLPTO. I would get a retainer up front Brett – virtual clients can be difficult to track down when the bills are due.
The Patry Copyright Blog shows why Second Life injunctions may be necessary. Six Second Life players have sued a Queens man in the Eastern District of New York for trademark and copyright infringement based upon sales of goods in Second Life. I wonder if the trademarks and copyrights were registered with the SLPTO or the US PTO/Copyright Office. And does the E.D.N.Y. have authority to issue cyber-injunctions?
Promote the Progress provides an interesting piece on the long-term effects of last week’s injunction against the PTO on shaping patent reform.
SportsBiz explains that plaintiffs who were bilked out of millions in attorneys’ fees by their now-jailed lawyers were not irreparably harmed. A Kentucky court awarded them a 20% ownership interest in Curlin, the prize race horse and Breeder’s Cup Classic winner partially owned by the jailed lawyers.
Adams Drafting issues its own injunction against using virgules. Using what? The virgule, or the forward slash. He explains that it is frequently used to mean: 1) “per” – 50 miles/hour; 2) “or” – and/or; and 3) “and” – all parents/subsidiaries/affiliates are bound by the obligations. The problem is that the various uses create ambiguity. Adams acknowledges that he cannot find any litigation specifically about the virgule. But the best solution is to remove the virgule from your writing before you become embroiled in the first litigation over one. And when it comes to rules of writing and grammar, the best solution is to listen to Adams.
What if you do not want an injunction or just want a faster, cheaper resolution? The IP ADR blog is talking about last week’s big settlement between Vonage and Verizon. They suggest that you consider using contingent agreements to control for changing future conditions and charitable contributions. They also point out that creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are important elements for reaching settlements.
Another way to avoid an injunction is to understand how best to argue against the opposing party and their counsel. The Center for Internet & Society discusses how men and women in the United States and in other cultures communicate and suggests that understanding the nuances of how different people communicate around the globe could advance legal discourse.
Lowering the Bar reports on a Michigan man sentenced to sixty days in jail for a home invasion that ended in him throwing two large pickles at residents of the home. No word on whether he will be enjoined from pickle ownership. Okay, that is a weak tie-in, but who can resist a pickle invasion story.
Deliberations discusses one of the basic truths of trial law – you must connect with your jury about basic truths of your case. That is equally true when seeking an injunction – if the judge senses something is not right about your argument, you will not get your injunction.
The writers’ strike that is expected this week is not an injunction, but it will mean an end to new scripted television and movies. Concurring Opinions has an interesting post about a brewing legal dispute between the studios and the writers’ union, the Writers Guild of America (“WGA”). The WGA is requiring that members provide information on all unproduced projects and an update on the status of those projects, as per the labor agreement between the WGA and the studios. But the studios, based upon their individual agreements with writers, are warning writers that the studios own the scripts and the writers are barred by contract from giving the WGA any information about the projects. These conflicting contracts place the writers in quite a pickle (I could not resist), and it poses an interesting legal question as to which contract controls.
And I end with a post that is actually about an injunction. The Maryland IP Law Blog (another LexBlog creation) posted about a District of Delaware court that upheld a jury verdict of patent infringement and plans to enter a permanent injunction against Lonza, Ltd., Nutrinova Inc. and Nutrinova Nutrition Specialties & Food Ingredients GmbH prohibiting the U.S. sale and use of a fatty acid product currently marketed under the brand name Lonza DHA for use in functional foods and dietary supplements.
Thanks for reading. And for the Blog’s regular readers, I will be back to my usual Northern District of Illinois focus tomorrow.
* Second Life is an internet-based virtual world where “residents” interact through avatars. For example, the Seventh Circuit’s Judge Posner appeared in Second Life with an avatar closely resembling him to answer questions from, among others, a DC IP lawyer using an avatar of a humanized raccoon. Check out the New World Notes blog for a transcript and some screenshots.

Continue Reading Blawg Review #133

Allied Ins. Co. v. Bach, No. 05 C 5945, 2007 WL 627635 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 27, 2007) (Leinenweber, J.).

Judge Leinenweber granted declaratory judgment defendants/counter-plaintiffs (collectively "defendants") summary judgment DJ plaintiff/counter-defendant’s ("plaintiff") duty to defend defendants against Lanham Act and related state law claims.  Defendants were sued by third party Acushnet which accused defendants of

Bergt v. McDougal Littell, No. 06 C 4645, 2006 WL 3782919 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 21, 2006) (Lefkow, J.).

Judge Lefkow denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s copyright and fraud case which alleged that defendants’ use of plaintiff’s copyrighted painting "Primavera" in textbooks exceeded the number of copies allowed by the parties’ license agreement.  Defendants

Avery Dennison Corp. v. Naimo, No. 06 C 3390, 2006 WL 3343762 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 16, 2006) (Grady, J.).

In this trade secret dispute, Judge Grady dismissed plaintiff’s breach of contract claim alleging defendant’s breach of the parties’ Employment Agreement because the Separation Agreement the parties subsequently signed included an integration clause.  When defendant began his employment with plaintiff he signed an Employment Agreement which required that, among other things, defendant not compete with plaintiff for twelve months after his employment ended and that defendant never use plaintiff’s proprietary information for the benefit of anyone besides plaintiff.  When defendant later stopped working for plaintiff, the parties signed a Separation Agreement with a similar proprietary information clause and a strong integration clause, but apparently without a similar non-compete clause.  Continue Reading Integration Clauses At Work