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.

Under the Copyright Act, an owner of a copyright suing for infringement may elect to seek statutory damages instead of actual damages.  The amount of statutory damages under the Copyright Act are limited to $30,000 for innocent infringement and up to $150,000 for willful infringement.  In Desire, LLC v. Manna Textiles, Inc., et al. (decided February 2, 2021), the Ninth Circuit was confronted with the issue of whether a plaintiff is entitled to multiple statutory damage awards where some of the defendants are found to be jointly and severally liable with each other.

Desire is a fabric supplier that had obtained and registered with the Copyright office “a two dimensional floral print textile design.”  Shortly thereafter, a woman’s clothing manufacturing, Top Fashion, purchased a couple of yards of the fabric from Desire in order to secure a clothing order with Ashley Stewart, Inc., a woman’s clothing retailer.  Unfortunately, Top Fashion and Desire had a dispute over the fabric’s price.  Top Fashion then showed the design to Manna, a fabric designer, who in turn used a Chinese textile design firm to modify the design.  That designer changed approximately 30-40% of the original design, and Manna subsequently registered the “new” design with the Copyright Office.
Continue Reading The Interplay Between Statutory Damages and Joint and Several Liability in a Copyright Infringement Action

One of the last books written by Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” is one of the bestselling books during graduation season each year.  The copyright for this book, like all of the works of Dr. Seuss, belongs to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP, which issues licenses for the creation of new works under the Dr. Seuss brand.  It also works closely to oversee licenses of its work, which it carefully vets.  As any parent (and even non-parent) knows, there are tons of Dr. Seuss-licensed works such as toys, video games and books.

In 2016, a group attempted to produce and market a book that would be a “mash up” of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places” and Star Trek, in which the crew of the USS Enterprise would be sent through the world inhabited by the characters of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”  A “mash up” is essentially a work that is created by combining “elements from two or more sources,” such as having specific movie characters inhabit a literary world, etc.

The plan was to create a new work called, “Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go,” a play on words from the old Star Trek series that the crew was “boldly going where no man had gone before.”
Continue Reading It’s No “Fair Use” Trying to Parody Dr. Seuss

Unicolors, Inc. creates and markets artistic design fabrics to various garment manufacturers.  Some of these designs are marketed to the public and placed in its showroom while other designs are considered “confined” works that Unicolor sells to certain customers. Unicolors withholds marketing them to the general public for a set period of time. In order to save money, Unicolors often times groups various designs into a “single work” when filing with the U.S. Copyright office for copyright registration.  The Ninth Circuit in Unicolors v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz (May 29, 2020), recently addressed whether this practice, grouping both public and “confined” works into a single registration application, creates a valid copyright that Unicolors could enforce.
Continue Reading “Birds of a Feather” – The Ninth Circuit Confronts “Single Unit of Publication” Copyright Issue