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James is a shareholder in Weintraub Tobin’s litigation section.  He represents corporate and individual clients in both state and federal courts in various business litigation matters, including trade secret misappropriation, unfair business competition, stockholder disputes, and intellectual property disputes.

In a recent case, Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC, decided September 9, 2021, the Ninth Circuit clarified the role that the de minimis concept plays in copyright infringement cases.  In essence, the Ninth Circuit explained that de minimis goes to the amount of copying of a copyrighted work as opposed to any de minimis use or display of any such a work.
Continue Reading The De Minimis Concept in Copyright Cases – The Ninth Circuit Says What it is and What it Isn’t

Calling it a “ball of confusion,” the Ninth Circuit recently considered a case involving the music of the Turtles, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and whether royalties are owed under California copyright law for music dating prior to 1972. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit reviewed nearly 200 years of copyright law to reach its conclusion.

In a lawsuit that was originally filed in 2013 titled, Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., the Ninth Circuit confronted the issue of “whether digital and satellite radio stations have a duty to pay public performance royalties for pre-1972 songs under [California] copyright law.” The crux of the case turned on the meaning of the phrase, “exclusive ownership,” which the California legislature used in California’s copyright statute in 1872.
Continue Reading “Happy Together” – The Ninth Circuit Plays the Golden Oldies of Copyright Law

Loud parties, surveillance cameras, and a neighbor dispute? The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District in California was recently faced with these issues in a case involving claims that one neighbor’s use of surveillance cameras violated the other neighbor’s right to privacy. The fact that one of the defendants was comedian, Kathy Griffin, only added to the case’s interest. In the end, the Court sided with Ms. Griffin and her boyfriend in the case: Mezger v. Bick, et al. (decided July 1, 2021).

Continue Reading What Happens in Your Backyard Doesn’t Always Stay in Your Backyard

What happens when a junior trademark holder’s business becomes so popular and well known that it threatens to swamp the reputation of a senior mark holder?  The senior mark holder brings a trademark infringement case alleging “reverse confusion” among its potential customers.  This was the scenario the Ninth Circuit faced in its recent decision in: Ironhawk Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox, Inc. (decided April 20, 2021).

Ironhawk develops computer software that uses compression technology to allow for the efficient transfer of data, especially in “bandwidth-challenged environments.”  It has marketed its software under the name “SmartSync” since 2004 and obtained a trademark for SmartSync in 2007.  It sells its software primarily to the United States Navy but, in 2013, sold its software to at least one major pharmacy chain.

Dropbox (as most lawyers know) produces cloud storage software that millions of users utilize around the world.  One of Dropbox’s software features, “Smart Sync,” allows a user to see and access files in their Dropbox cloud account without using up any of the user’s hard drive storage. Dropbox launched its Smart Sync feature in 2017 and was previously aware of Ironhawk’s SmartSync mark.  Ironhawk sued Dropbox for violations of the Lanham Act, i.e., trademark infringement, and unfair competition claiming that Dropbox’s use of the name “Smart Sync” intentionally infringed upon Ironhawk’s “SmartSync” trademark.

After some discovery, Dropbox moved for summary judgment.  After applying the Sleekcraft factors [from AMF, Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats, 599 F.2d 341, 348-349 (9th Cir. 1979)], the district court granted summary judgment to Dropbox.  The Court found that “the overwhelming balance of the Sleekcraft factors weighs against a likelihood of confusion” and that no reasonable jury would find any confusion. Ironhawk appealed to the Ninth Circuit from summary judgment.
Continue Reading The Sleekcraft Factors and “Reverse Confusion” Trademark Infringement

The Ninth Circuit recently considered an issue of first impression: What standard of review does an appellate court apply when reviewing a district court’s grant of summary judgment in a trademark infringement case on the equitable basis of the unclean hands doctrine. The Ninth Circuit faced this issue in the case titled: Metal Jeans, Inc.