Trademark for Kappa Cigarette Brand Opposed

February 26, 2015

Kappa

Karelia Tobacco Company Inc filed Israel trademark application 213924 for the word Kappa (non-stylized). The mark covers cigarettes, tobacco and tobacco products, lighters, matches and smoker’s requirements, all in class 34. The application was filed in August 2006, and was accepted in March 2010 and published for opposition purposes. Basic Trademarks S.A. opposed the application. Basic Trademarks S.A. has a brand of sports clothing Kappa – with the logo shown above.

Among other grounds, Basic Trademarks attempted to amend their statement of case to oppose the registration on the Section 7a(d) of the Law to Limit Advertising and marketing of tobacco products. This attempt was thrown out based on a ruling that limiting cigarette advertising was not grounds for preventing a trademark from being registered. Furthermore, tobacco brands could not fairly be considered unregisterable under grounds of Public Order.

Kappa appealed this interim ruling to the District Court (Appeal 15171-02-11) who ruled that public order was a consideration. The statement of case was then amended. The sides submitted their evidence, but forgo the need for a hearing, allowing the Israel Patent and Trademark Office to rule on the Opposition based on the written evidence and submissions.

Opposer’s Case

The Opposer argued that they were a world leading clothing company that made shoes, clothing and head-wear for leisure wear, sports, and for sporty fashion. The mark was well known in the US, Europe, Canada, China and Israel.

The Opposer has 13 marks including the name Kappa in various classes, with and without the logo shown above, where the word Kappa is dominant. The Opposer claims to have invested significant resources in advertising and marketing, worldwide including Israel. The turnover reaches millions of Euros a year. The company promotes sports and international sports competitions.

Due to the advertising, Kappa is a well known mark, as the term is defined in Section 1 of the Ordinance, and thus under Section 11(14) the mark cannot be registered by others in other classes as this would create a linkage to the clothing manufacturer which would damage their reputation.

The mark was also not registerable under Section 11(6) as to register it would dilute the sports company’s mark, damage their reputation and be unfair competition.

Furthermore, following the appeal, the application should be refused under Section 11(5) as being against the public good – Section 7a(d) of the Law to limit advertising and marketing of tobacco products was legislated since tobacco is unhealthy. Finally, the applicant had not actually sold tobacco products under the Kappa brand and so would not suffer significant losses from having the mark refused.

Applicant’s case

Karelia Tobacco Company Inc argued that Kappa is famous only for the word together with the back to back male and female and the word itself is not well known.

Trademarks and branding for cigarettes is allowed in Israel and so public order considerations should be considered irrelevant. The word Kappa is similar, but there is no conceptual relationship between the goods. (What the argument is really saying is that since Kappa promotes a healthy sporty image and cigarettes don’t fit into that image, noone would think that Kappa cigarettes are a product of the sporty fashion company. Both marks are used with other elements and the possibility of damage to Kappa sportswear from Kappa cigarettes is not proven.

The distribution channels and customer base is very different. Kappa is a Greek letter and like Delta, although can be monopolized, cannot be monopolized across classes. For example, the word Kappa is in use by third parties in the print industry.

Both in Israel and abroad the same mark may be used for cigarettes and for sports goods with both marks coexisting. (This argument is plausible, however, no examples are given).

In conclusion, applicant rejects claims of confusion, unfair competition and dilution, and argued that Kappa had not proven that their mark is well known in the meaning of the term as far as well known marks is concerned. Furthermore, the advertising limitations on cigarettes cannot be applied to prevent the mark from registering.

Kappa submitted evidence of turnover and advertising expenditures and a Wikipedia excerpt concerning fashion cigarettes.    It seems that Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Versace, Pierre Cardin, Christian Lacroix and Cartier have, at one time, each allowed their name to be linked to cigarettes. It was argued that sine fashion brands do allow their names to be used with designer perfumes and cigarettes, a cigarette with the same name as a fashion brand could be considered as linked to the fashion brand, creating a confusion regarding origin.

The Ruling

Citing precedents, the Adjudicator Ms Shoshani Caspi ruled that in oppositions, the burden of proof lies with the Applicant. Nevertheless, the Opposer has to base their opposition on facts.

The parties forgo a formal hearing with cross-examination and allowed the Adjudicator to rule on the evidence submitted.

Firstly, Ms Shoshani Caspi examined whether Kappa could fairly be considered a well known mark for fashion at the time that Kappa was filed for cigarettes, allowing it to prevent marks from being registered in additional classes, i.e. not just for fashion accessories.

The determination of whether Kappa could be considered a well-known mark was based on market penetration in the relevant population sector, the extent of usage of the mark and its longevity, long term advertising, inherent distinctiveness, whether the mark was in exclusive use and to what extent the owners of the mark invest in combatting infringers. The mark had to be considered well-known in Israel and not just abroad.

Al the evidence pointed to the mark being well known, despite the fact that generally the name Kappa is generally used together with the logo. The mark has been in use since 1969 and is mostly used in connection with sporty clothing. The opposers have an international portfolio of 600 marks including the word Kappa alone, not just as part of Robe De Kappa or together with the emblem. They have sponsored various football teams in Italy, Holland, France and Spain. The brand has millions of dollars of annual income from sales in Israel and has sponsored various local football teams including HaPoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem.  Thus the KAPPA mark was well-known in Israel as well.

The second issue is whether, due to the phenomenon of fashion cigarettes, whether the public would identify KAPPA cigarettes with the fashion brand. Here, when extending a mark into new categories of goods, there is a need to act sensitively and to weigh up the interests of the competing parties.

Ms Shoshani Caspi was impressed that both fashion and cigarette usage are susceptible to trends and found the phenomenon of fashion cigarette branding persuasive.

The fact that the cigarette brand had not yet launched strengthened this, and she was also convinced that a brand associated with the fashion house could do harm to the fashion house’ image.

Since the fashion house had a sixty year history and the cigarette company could not provide any reasonable explanation for the choice of name, she suspected inequitable behavior and considered dilution a real possibiliity.

In conclusion, MS Shoshani Caspi ruled that the Kappa fashion mark was well known, that fashion and cigarettes could confuse confusion and dilution and rejected registration of the Kappa brand for cigarettes and rejected the registrations under Section 11(14 and 11(6).

Ruling re Opposition to by Kappa clothing to Kappa as Israel Trademark 213924 “Kappa” for cigarettes, Ms Shoshani Caspi, 22 January 2015

 

COMMENT

The fashion brand argument ignores the fact that haute-couture and sports goods are not the same, and that fashion cigarettes are a relic of a bygone era when smoking was certainly socially acceptable, but more was actually considered cool and sophisticated, and not just among teenagers. Put another way, when cigarettes were fashion accessories, fashion houses were happy to have their names associated with cigarette brands. That is not the case now, as evidenced by Kappa’s arguments. That said, the decision seems reasonable.

 


YES!

February 18, 2015
Yes!

Yes!

DBS Satellite Services 1988 LTD provides satellite television services in Israel that are branded as YES. The Service is licensed by the Communications Ministry.

DBS Satellite Services 1988 LTD sued the brothers Ahmed and Amar Hamuda for trademark and copyright infringement and damages, requesting the following sanctions:

  1. A permanent injunction against the defendants to prevent them from distributing, marketing of selling pirate transmission of the Plaintiff, to cease using the plaintiff’s trademarks, including in third party publications. They requested an injunction against them using the plaintiff’s equipment, or equipment supplied by the plaintiff to their customers, for any but personal use, and to cease any non-personal use immediately.
  2. An order to the defendants or to the receiver to destroy all equipment that enables copyright infringement and all material carrying the YES logo.
  3. An injunction to remove YES’ registered trademarks from the FACEBOOK page for Acre Satellites and from all other publications.
  4. A request to reveal accounts going back seven years.
  5. Statutory damages of 700,000 Shekels under Section 56a of the Copyright Act and Statutory Damages of 100,000 Shekels for trademark infringements (claiming single infringements merely to reduce the court fees) and double costs as a punishment for willful infringement.
  6. Alternatively, compensation of 1,900,000 Shekels for Unjust Enrichment,  (the figures capped to reduce the court fees).

These injunctions were granted by Judge Zernkin, and following the Anton Pillar injunction, equipment and computer records were seized and a summary report was filed to the court by the receiver.

The injunctions were kept in force until the end of proceedings, and for the purposes of the hearing, an order to produce documents and to fill out questionnaires was issued.  This happened in the presence of the defendants who then failed to respond. Consequently, using powers under Section 122 of the Civil Court Procedure 1984, the court ruled that the statement of defense be struck from the record. It is noted that the statement of defense was a mere denial without any explanations.

In a ruling of 27 December 2014, Judge Orit Weinstein requested that the Prosecution supply evidence to substantiate their case and on 15 January 2015 they submitted evidence and affidavits of private detectives, by the VP (Engineering) of YES and the Head of Development at YES.

Based of the evidence submitted, Judge Weinstein ruled that there was sufficient grounds for a judgment against the defendants:

The Defendants broke the security encryption of the satellite transmissions and created a pirate industry, marketing and selling YES’ transmissions piratically, without paying YES, and by undercutting YES’ prices, free-riding on YES. YES’ copyright was infringed by the packaging of the transmission channels and the content, and YES’ trademarks were infringed by being used without permission and illegally.

Consequently, Judge Weinstein ruled that the temporary injunctions would become permanent injunctions, that all equipment be destroyed, following the receiver declaring that he was not holding any assets, there was no need to issue an order against him. The FACEBOOK page should be amended and so should all other publications so as not to include the trademarks of the plaintiff. Judge Weinstein further ruled statutory damages of 700,000 Shekels for copyright infringement and of 100,000 Shekels for trademark infringement, 10,000 Shekels expenses and 40,000 Shekels legal costs.

Civil Proceedings 111147-10-13 DBS Satellite Services (1998) LTD vs. Ahmed and Amar Hamuda.

COMMENTS
I have no sympathy for the defendants in this case. Nevertheless, although the ruling seems very reasonable and the defendants didn’t exactly defend themselves, in the hands of a good lawyer, they could have raised a number of interesting questions. Free riding is not a crime. YES probably does not own very much of the copyright in their transmissions and creating a copyright in a package of channels is stretching things a little. In a recent Supreme Court Ruling concerning parallel imported Tommy Hilfiger shirts here, the Supreme Court allowed the parallel importer to advertise that it was selling Tommy Hilfiger shirts, but not to claim that it was a registered supplier, and to inform customers that they were not entitled to warranties from the official suppliers.  Can one really prevent someone from using the word ‘yes’ on their facebook page or in advertisements?

pirate

Piracy is the crime of boarding shipping on the high seas that is punishable under international maritime law by requiring the pirate to walk the plank.

Arguably with regular TV transmissions, there is a case for Ministry of Communications regulation to divide the radio frequencies into separate bands and to prevent channels interfering with each other. I am not sure that for digital signals sent by satellite this is the case. Certainly government tenders have been abused. The tender for commercial radio that then Govt. Minister Shulamit Aloni put together was designed to prevent Arutz 7 from obtaining a license. The same politicians who called the Arutz 7 team pirates and warned about pirate radios risking plane crashes lauded the late peace activist Abu Natan and his pirate radio ship the Voice of Peace and nominated him for a Nobel Prize. When the Supreme Court voted en banc against Arutz 7, without a dissenting voice even mentioning the value of free speech, it was clear that things have deteriorated a long way since Agranat’s deicison re Kol HaAm.


Registering Designs for Garments

February 9, 2015
Fashion is an industry where the innovator benefits from a lead time as first mover, but most manufacturers follow trends and though designs may be registered, usually they are not. Copyright may protect exact copying, but generally this is also not an appropriate tool.
Recently, the international fashion brand Diesel, represented by Adv. Daniel Freimann, managed to obtain an injunction against Israeli clothing retailers Hoodies for copying a design of jeans.
Diesel's jeans are shown here:

 diesel from front  diesel from back

Hoodies jeans are shown here:

hoodies from front   hoodies from back

Diesel’s design has a high waist, are form hugging and have stitching extending from the bottom of the pockets, at the knees and at the back of the legs.  

This stitching detail is somewhat unique. Hoodies claimed that their jeans were not a copy, and were considerable cheaper and noted that the decorative stitching on the back pocket was somewhat different. They also argued that the Diesel’s design was for blue and white jeans only. The judge accepted that the back pocket stitiching was different, however, since Hoodies’ jeans had the same basic shape and included such stitching. 

Diesel had filed design applications (nos. 50526 and 51929 and claimed 11 and 9 novel features respectively. Hoodies argued that their jeans did not have all the elements. The judge considered that the issue is one of the impression of the garment as a whole and not one of analyzing novel features against a checklist. 

Hoodies accepted that Diesel had a reputation, but not one for the specific design. Since their jeans were sold at about 15% of Diesel’s prices and since the design was not well known, there was no case of passing off or likely consumer confusion. 

As to the registered design, Hoodies claimed that prior to it being filed, the jeans were on sale, so the design registration was void.

Judge Yaakov Shepser of the Central District Court noted that despite the differences, Hoodies had produced no evidence that there were other jeans on the market that were in this style, and that Hoodies’ jeans included at least 4 or the 9 new design elements. The judge also considered that there was a likelihood of consumer confusion. The Judge therefore ruled an injunction against Hoodies.

Hoodies claimed that as a basic Israeli clothing company, they were ‘honoured’ that Diesel had taken note of them.

 COMMENT

If Hoodies can show that the registered designs are void due to publication prior to filing, or at least that the stitching on knees, front pocket and back of trouser leg was used in Diesel or other jeans prior to the design registration, I think they should prevail.

If, however, there are valid design registrations for these features, I think the judge is correct that combining them with different decorative pocket stitches should still be considered infringing

 


Can post priority-date publications that describe clinical practice be considered prior art?

February 5, 2015

exforce

Israel Patent Application No. 140665 to Novartis tited “Use of Combiantion Compositions comprising Valsartan and Amlodipine n the preparation of medicaments for the treatment and prevention of diabetes related hypertension” relates to preparations including  Valsartan and Amlodipine for treating high blood pressure and diabetes.

The application was a national phase of PCT/EP1999/004842 from 9 July 199 and claims priority from an earlier US patent application.  The patent was allowed and published for opposition purposes on 23 December 2012 and is being opposed by both Teva Pharmaceuticals LTD. and by Unipharm LTD.

The Opposers submitted an expert opinion from a Professor Chimlichman to the effect that the combination was known from various publications and his treatment of hyper-tension and thus were lacking novelty at the priority date.

On response to evidence by the Applicant, the Opposers submitted a second opinion in which he relied on two publications from after the priority date to determine novelty and inventiveness at the time of the priority date. Since these publications were not prior art, the Applicant requested that they were deleted from the opinion and expunged from the record.

Professor Chimlichman claimed that his treatment before the priority date was supported by GYH Lip et al., “The `Birmingham Hypertension Square` for the Optimum Choice of Add-in Drugs in the Management of Resistant Hypertension”, Journal of Human Hypertension (1998) 12, 761-763. Whilst the publication itself was certainly published after the priority date, it relates to clinical tests using the combination of the two drugs and must have been written prior to being published and describes what the authors knew prior to the priority date.

Furthermore, a response to Lip et al. subsequently published in the same journal provides additional evidence that the combinatory effect was known.

Whilst accepting that the two publications were not themselves prior art, the opposers argued that they indicate the state of the art at the priority date and should be examined on their merits and not expunged from the record. Furthermore, the additional evidence was brought in response to statements my Professor Daloph, the expert witness of the Applicant.

The Opponents cited Unipharm vs. SmithKline Beechan and Orbotech vs Camtek to support their argument that the papers should be examined on their merits.

The Ruling

Opposers are limited in what they can submit in response to the patentee’s evidence. They are not allowed to widen the statement of case. In this instance the additional evidence is supplementary evidence to support their main grounds of opposition, i.e. that the combination was known. There is no evidence given to explain why these papers weren’t submitted in the original round of evidence. The Opposer submits his evidence first and is entitled to respond to the counter-evidence. This gives him a procedural advantage and allowing the submission of additional evidence that could have been submitted in the first submission unfairly disadvantages the applicant.

In this case, the additional information is not prior art in the public domain, or it would not have been accepted for publication. It post-dates the application and is, therefore, not prior art. The Deputy Commissioner did not consider this material as indicating what was widely known prior to the priority date. The Opposers are trying to use the citations of Lip to show what was known prior to the priority date, and to do this, they should have submitted these citations in their statement of case.

Whilst not wishing to rule out using a paper that provides history of what was known earlier, the Deputy Commissioner warns against the danger of a hindsight bias and of reading the authors conclusions into the prior art.

As to the Opposers argument that the Applicant should have submitted an affidavit to support the evidence, Ms Bracha rejected this as the dates are not contested and so an affidavit is unnecessary.

In conclusion, Ms Bracha ruled that Sections 25-26 and 86-88 of the second opinion should be deleted. Legal costs of 5000 Shekels were ruled against the opposers.

COMMENT

In the DSM  vs. Mifalei Migun case, Judge Judith Schitzer of the District Court correctly ruled that one does not have to submit an affidavit with every piece of evidence or statement, so the Deputy Commissioner is correct on this account.

As to the late submission of evidence however, I think that the Opposers can fairly be penalized for not timely submitting these papers by having interim costs awarded against them for not submitting the evidence earlier, but the evidence should be related to substantively if it testifies to what was practiced prior to the patent being filed and not thrown out on procedural grounds. Ultimately the purpose of the Opposition proceeding is to clarify novelty and inventiveness to protect the public interest. If a drug becomes patented and should not be, the public will pay monopoly prices. Sure, the opposers have to answer as to why these papers were submitted late. Maybe the applicant should be given a second chance to respond and compensated for delays, but I disagree with this decision to throw out what could be key evidence.


Plasson

January 25, 2015

PLasson

Plasson manufactures pipe couplings. Unidelta launched a competing product and Plasson claimed patent infringement of their patents IL 125899 and IL 127327 and passing off and requested an injunction. The District Court accepted the charges that the “main point of the patent” was infringed and issued an injunction preventing the manufacture, import or sale of Unidelta’s pipe connections in Israel as they are a copy of Plasson’s product. On Appeal, the Supreme Court overturned the finding of patent infringement and referred the case back to the District Court. The Supreme Court ruled that where the similarities between the allegedly infringing product and the patented invention lie in features that are in the public domain, there can be no case of infringement.

Background

In addition to literal infringement of the claims of a patent, Section 49 provides grounds for legal remedies where the kernel of the patent is copied. This is rather like the “pith and marrow” doctrine in the UK. Essentially, the Law provides remedies where claim infringement is avoided by a technicality, and may be seen as similar to the doctrine of equivalents. Arguably contributory infringement and inducement to infringe may be considered as judicial extensions of this doctrine. It is important to allow general inventing around, but to avoid situations where poor claim drafting can result in no literal infringement of the claims.  What the Supreme Court has done is to clarify the extent of application of Section 49.

Ruling

Judge Meltzer of the Israel Supreme Court ruled that Section 49 provides monopolistic powers to the patentee to prevent literal infringement of the claims defining the invention and also similar products / processes that infringe the kernel of the invention. In this instance, both parties accept that there is no literal infringement so the only issue is the kernel of the patent. The kernel cannot be wider than that described in the Specification and, where the patent is for a device or system comprising a combination of known parts, the kernel of the patent cannot include the parts themselves. In this instance, the District Court did not address the question of what the kernel of the patent is, and without identifying the kernel of the patent, it is impossible to establish that this is infringed by Unidelta’s product. Once the kernel is established, the court must consider whether the infringing product operates in a similar way to achieve similar results.

The Supreme Court ruled that the patent issued because of a limiting feature added to the other components.

The main claim recites:

“1. A pipe coupling comprising a tubular housing having an axial bore adapted to receive a pipe end to be coupled and having an externally threaded housing portion and an inner housing abutment; a pipe gripping sleeve having formed therein a plurality of substantially equiangularly distributed, axially directed slits extending from a first end thereof to a region adjacent to but spaced from a second and opposite end thereof thereby defining an integrally formed, axially distortable, ring-like sleeve end portion, a first axial portion of said sleeve, through which said slits extend, tapering externally from a peripheral, outwardly directed flanged portion towards said first end and being formed with a plurality of inwardly directed, axially spaced apart serrations; a tubular collar having a first inner axial portion tapering from an inner collar abutment to a first end of said collar and a second inner axial threaded portion extending from said collar abutment to a second and opposite end of said collar; and a flexible sealing ring; the arrangment of said coupling being such that with said pipe end extending through said collar, sleeve, sealing ring and housing, said collar is screw fitted on said housing, said sleeve is located in said housing and said collar with said flanged portion located between said collar abutment and an adjacent end of said housing and said sealing ring is located between said sleeve ring and said housing abutment; screw tightening of said collar on said housing causes the respective tapering portions of the collar and sleeve to be mutually displaced with the gripping contraction of said sleeve about said pipe end and the axial compression of said sealing ring about said pipe end”.

Plasson’s patent is for a ring fitting that includes a wide and flexible ring that enables different sized pipes to be attached together in one smooth motion without dismantling the connector. Since Unidelta’s system did not include this limiting feature, but merely combined pre-existing components to create an alternative pipe fitting, there was no infringement of the kernel of the patent.

Quoting from the specification:

Pipe couplings of the type herein described, which are presently in wide-spread use, normally require pushing the pipe through the seal (typically an O-ring) in the bore of the body member in order to achieve compression of the O-ring on the pipe, and thus a leak free joint. However, for pipes of large diameters, the operation of pushing the pipe through the O-ring seal requires a large force, making the operation very difficult, and sometimes even necessitating an extra operation of chamfering the pipe end for this purpose.

A further disadvantage in the pipe couplings of the type herein described now in use is that such couplings do not tolerate substantial variations in the pipe diameter so that precise pipe diameter tolerances must be maintained, or a large number of different-size couplings must be produced for the different diameter pipes to assure good sealing and gripping actions”.

“…a pipe coupling constructed in accordance with the foregoing features provides a number of important advantages including: convenient assembly, since the particular seal, in its relaxed condition, introduces very little resistance to the forceful entry of the pipe during assembly; …increased diameter range of pipes capable of being coupled, since the two-ribbed (or three-ribbed) sealing ring can accommodate substantial differences in diameter sizes…”.

This emphasizes that Plasson did not invent the only pipe coupling for joining pipes of different diameters, and there patent was limited to one that is easy to seal due to little resistance.

As to passing off, the Supreme Court was critical of the District Court for finding this without explanation of why they considered that this was applicable. The Supreme Court referred the case back to the District Court for further consideration on this issue.

Judge Meltzer established costs against Plasson of 75000 Shekels.

Judge Miriam Naor (now president of the Supreme Court) commended Judge Melzer on reducing the issue to non-technical matters without technalese that regular people could understand.

Appeal 6750/10 Unidelta vs. Palson, Supreme Court 18 December 2014

COMMENT

One wonders who the non-technical people are in this case, plumbers or the President of the Supreme Court? Is the technical issue here flanges and pipes, gaskets and washers, or non-literal infringement, pith & marrow and other legalese?


Chinese Copycat Products not illegal and down will come baby, cradle and all…

January 25, 2015

rockabye

Dvaron Import-Export sell a baby rocker.  The products were manufactured and imported from China. Fisher Price Inc. and Mattel Inc. sued claiming copyright infringement, passing off, trademark infringement and Unjust Enrichment. They alleged that their intellectual property was infringed by the product, it’s upholstery and instruction manual which they claimed were accurately copied. Both Dvaron Import-Export and directors Aharon Stein and David Ben Shushan were sued.

The Nazareth District Court threw out the charges noting that there was no patent or design registration and that the defendants had not infringed any trademark registered by Fisher Price or Mattel. Claims for reputation and confusing the public as required for a finding of “passing off” were also rejected.

The Court ruled that copying products per se. where there are no registered rights, does not, in and of itself, create grounds for an injunction. Each case has to be judged on its merits. There is no copyright in the design of functional articles, including their form, although sometimes articles includes artistic elements that are protectable.  Copyright does not apply to rocking chairs or to their upholstery which should be protected by a design registration.

Copyright does cover instruction manuals however, as these are literary creations. However, the defends are not responsible for the contents of the instruction manual infringing the copyright of Mattel or Fisher Price as they could not know that Mattel or Fisher Price had copyright in this, and they are thus innocent infringers. The Chinese manufacturer had indeed reproduced Fisher Price illustrations but one would not generally notice this or Fisher Price logos in the images, and purchasers would only see the instruction manual after purchase.

As to Unjust Enrichment, in 5768/94 A.Sh.I.R. the Supreme court found that applying this doctrine where there is no infringement of registered IP rights requires an additional element of bad faith which, in the present instance is not found

Fisher Price Inc. and Mattel Inc. could not show a reputation in the product. The mere copying is not in and of itself an additional element of bad faith and the charges were rejected.

As the charges were rejected, the issue of personal liability of the directors was moot.

Costs of 30,000 Shekels were awarded against  Fisher Price Inc. and Mattel Inc. As to goods seized under an Anton Pillar injunction by Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, Judge Ben Hamu referred the parties back to that court to rule on the issue.

T.A. 39534-02-12 Fisher Price et al vs. Dvarron et al., Judge Yosef Ben Hamu, 8 January 2015.


PCZL (Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer LLP) Appeals Source Vagabond Decision Sanctioning the Law firm for bringing Frivolous Law Suit.

January 21, 2015

shlooker

Background

Source Vagabond is one of a number of companies making personal portable water supplies that are known in Israel as Shlookers – a shlook being slang Hebrew for a sip.

On August 2, 2011, Source Vagabond sued Hydrapak for, inter alia, infringing “at least claim of the US 7,648,276 patent, either literally, or under the doctrine of equivalents.” On September 16, 2011, Hydrapak served a sanctions motion under Rule 11 which provides that, before a motion for sanctions is filed, the party against whom the sanctions will be sought must be notified of the potential Rule 11 violation and given a twenty-one-day period to withdraw the offending claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(2). Source declined to withdraw. On October 6, 2011, Source filed an Amended Complaint, and on October 12, 2011, Hydrapak served an amended Rule 11 motion.

The court of first instance ruled that granted Hydrapak’s motions for summary judgment and Rule 11 sanctions on April 11, 2012.

Regarding claim construction, the court said there was “nothing complicated or technical” about the claim limitation “slot being narrower than the diameter of the rod,” and that none of the words of this limitation “requires definition or interpretation beyond its plain and ordinary meaning.” Accordingly, the court gave “slot being narrower than the diameter of the rod” its“plain and ordinary meaning.”

The district court stated that Source’s proposed claim interpretation “violates all the relevant canons of claim construction” and that even under Source’s own construction, Hydrapak did not infringe. It also found the literal infringement claim “lacked evidentiary support no matter how the claim was construed” and “the difference is apparent to the naked eye, and the tape measure leaves no room for doubt.”

Specifically, the district court determined that in Hydrapak’s products the slot is larger than the diameter of the rod, even under Source’s proposed construction. The original decision ruling that the case was frivolous and fining attorneys PCZL is reported here.

Source Vagabond and Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer appealed the ruling.

The Appeal

On appeal, judge Cott determined that the sanctions were bases on two grounds:

“Source made frivolous legal claims in its submissions to the Court, in violation of Rule 11(b)(2); and Source failed to conduct an adequate investigation before filing this lawsuit, in violation of Rule 11(b)(3).”. He recommended Source’s counsel (i.e. Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer pay $187,308.65 in partial attorney’s fees, but that Source not be sanctioned.

The logic, explained by the district court was “Given counsel’s sole responsibility, as a matter of law, for the violations of Rule 11(b)(2), and counsel’s additional responsibility for the failure to investigate under Rule 11(b)(3), I recommend that Yonay and Shuman be held responsible for any monetary sanction. I further recommend Yonay and Shuman’s law firm, Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer LLP be held jointly and severally liable in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(1).

Hydropak successfully argued that it should receive legal fees for defending against te reconsideration motion, and the court concurred, raising the damages to $200,054.

The decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit.

Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit Ruling

In patent lawsuits, defending against baseless claims of infringement subjects the alleged infringer to undue costs, and this is precisely the scenario that Rule 11 contemplates.

The District Court found that Source had an obligation to demonstrate why they believed they had a reasonable chance of proving infringement, and that Source failed to show either literal infringement or infringement under the doctrine of equivalents. The issue revolved around the meaning of “slot being narrower than the diameter of the rod”. The district court dismissed Source’s construction stating, “an ‘analysis’ that adds words to the claim language [without support in the intrinsic evidence] in order to support a claim of infringement” does not follow “standard canons of claim construction.” Additionally, the surrounding claim language demonstrates that the “the slot,” “the rod, and “the portion of the container . . . folded over the rod” are distinct from each other. The claim language does not compare the size of the slot to the size of the rod together with the folded over container. Source had the ability to draft the claim that way but did not. It cannot correct that failure by adding words to otherwise unambiguous claim language. In other words, there is a limit to what one can argue a claim means.

Finally, Source argues that Hydrapak’s proposed construction “would render the entirety of claim 1 nonsensical.” This is a fascinating admission that not only does the scope of the claim as prosecuted by PCZL not include the product fabricated by Hydrapak, but that the claim is actually meaningless.

On Appeal, the Federal Circuit stated that “The district court properly determined that “claim construction is a function of the words of the claim not the ‘purpose’ of the invention,” and that Source’s construction “violates nearly every tenet of claim construction and amounts to a wholesale judicial rewriting of the claim.” Source was required to “perform an objective evaluation of the claim terms” to satisfy its obligation to conduct a reasonable pre-suit evaluation. Eon-Net LP v. Flagstar Bancorp, 653 F.3d 1314, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2011). By proposing a definition that ignores the canons of claim construction, Source did not meet that standard. The district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing Rule 11(b)(2) sanctions based upon Source’s frivolous claim construction arguments.

Regarding the doctrine of equivalents:

(“[N]either the attorney’s affidavit nor plaintiff’s ‘pre-suit analysis’ . . .[ever] mentioned, let alone analyzed, how Hydrapak’s product infringed Source’s patent under the doctrine of equivalents.”). Counsel was obligated to come forward with a showing of exactly why, prior to filing suit, they believed their claim of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents was reasonable. See View Eng’g, 208 F.3d at 986. Source did not comply with this requirement below. Under these circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding a Rule 11 violation. The cost of $200,054 against Guy Yonay and against Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer was affirmed.

Court of Appeals Federal Circuit, SOURCE VAGABOND SYSTEMS and Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer LLP v. HYDRAPAK, INC., decided June 5, 2014

COMMENTS

I apologize to readers for being tardy in reporting this decision from June 2014. It has only recently come to my attention. Guy Yonay accused me of unfair reporting of the original decision and argued that the judge was clearly wrong, and Zev Pearl accused me of publishing lies. I think this decision, which may be found in full here appeal PCZL vindicates my reporting.

The court is correct that the attorneys are responsible for filing the frivolous law-suit. Why did this happen?

Well, the decision states that “Guy Yonay and Clyde Shuman are partners in the law firm Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer LLP. Prior to the present action, Mr. Yonay prosecuted the ’276 patent application. In the underlying district court litigation, Mr. Yonay signed the original Complaint on behalf of Source, and Mr. Shuman signed the Amended Complaint.”

I would suggest that the first problem is that Yonay apparently prosecuted the claim before the patent office (and may have drafted the application) and then went on to litigate it. This is never good practice. Before litigating one should seek an independent opinion of the chances of prevailing. Yonay could not objectively review the claims he’d prosecuted. He appears to be confused between the purpose of the product and the claimed structure. With mechanical patents one cannot, by obtaining a patent for a specific device, prevent third parties from competing with devices having different structures that are well beyond the ambit of the claims, by arguing that they achieve the desired aim and are thus functional equivalents.

In general, it is ill-advised for the prosecutor of the patent to litigate it in court. Indeed, it is ill-advised for the prosecutor and litigator to belong to the same firm. At least on Appeal, Pearl Cohen took an external counsel, Jenks.

The managing partner of PCZL, Zev Pearl is not licensed to practice in the US. There is, however, a senior partner, Mark Cohen, who is US licensed. Both these gentlemen could and should have prevented the frivolous case being filed. Their failure to do so explains why the courts find the firm responsible and not just Yonay and Shuman.

In a newspaper article on trolls that originated in PCZL was published in the Jerusalem Post and also appears on the Pearl Cohen website, it is implied that only under new Obama legislation, can non-practicing entities be sued for costs in unsuccessful law suits. The implication is that prior to the proposed legislation trolls had nothing to lose by filing frivolous lawsuits and that practicing entities have nothing to lose as they are not trolls. This decision shows the error in this approach. Any entity, whether practicing or otherwise, must have reasonable grounds of validity and infringement to bring a case against a third-party to court. The courts have the authority to sanction the plaintiff and their legal counsel for filing frivolous cases. Pearl Cohen should have known that the interpretation they were giving to the claim was untenable. It was not infringed. The courts were therefore correct in fining PCZL.

 


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