|The AmeriKat experiences the rush of true love with|
Petrella v Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. The question before the court is whether the doctrine of laches can bar all remedies for civil copyright infringement claims that are commenced within the three-year statute of limitations prescribed by Congress (see question here). In summary, the doctrine of laches is an equitable defence that, when asserted, prevents a claimant from commencing litigation after an unreasonable delay such that to bring litigation would prejudice the defendant. In answering this question, the Supreme Court will have a chance to unify the differing approaches that have been plaguing the federal courts of appeals on whether laches wins the day or not.
For Scorsese and DeNiro fans, the case at issue involved the classic 1980 biographical masterpiece, Raging Bull which captured the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. LaMotta and his friend and collaborator, Frank Peter Petrella wrote three works about LaMotta's life which included two screenplays and a memoir, the rights of which were assigned to MGM predecessor in interest in 1976. Petrella died in 1981 and ten years later, his daughter Paula, secured the renewal rights for the earlier of the screen plays and asked that MGM cease its exploitation of the film. This continued for several years, but Ms Petrella did not commence copyright infringement proceedings until 2009.
A California federal court granted MGM summary judgment holding that Petrella's claims were barred by the doctrine of laches. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this decision and rejected Petrella's arguments that the accrual rule - which provides that a separate claim accrues each time copyright is infringed - should apply for MGM's alleged infringement within the three years of issuing her complaint (i.e. between 2006-2009). The Ninth Circuit held that those claims were still barred by the doctrine of laches as Petrella had waited 18 years before filing her suit. Petrella's argument before the Supreme Court on Monday boiled down to the fact that the Court had "never applied laches to constrict a Federal statute of limitations". MGM's argument boiled down to the principle that although the Copyright Act did not contain language providing for the use of equitable defences against infringement claims, the statute nevertheless did not void their role in copyright law.
|Like this film poster from Raging|
Bull, which party is going to come
out of the Supreme Court with
their face bloodied?
There were several amici briefs in this case, including from the the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) who urged the Court to vacate the Ninth Circuit's decision because it violates Congress's
"express definition of the specific period within which a plaintiff may seek a remedy for copyright infringement. While a substantial delay that prejudices a defendant may or may not warrant barring equitable relief, laches should not bar all relief for infringing during and following the three-year limitations period. In particular, due regard for the statute, the legislature and copyright policy goals militates against allowing laches to bar the legal remedy for damages for infringing acts within the limitations period.
The Ninth Circuit decision should also be vacated because it improperly relies upon trademark jurisprudence. Despite the general applicability of the principles of equity, courts applying laches should take into account the broader context, including specific attributes of the area of law at issue. Copyright and trademark laws have distinct policy objectives, applicable statutory provisions, and durations of protection. These distinctions require that laches be applied with a nuanced approach, rather than a broad brush, as evidenced by the historically different treatment of laches in different areas of the law, including copyright and trademark.
AIPLA takes no position on who should prevail on the present facts, but instead seeks to address the broader concerns of authors and creators. Uniformity within copyright law is critical to avoid forum shopping by copyright owners and declaratory judgment plaintiffs. In providing uniformity in copyright law, however, the Court should take care not to disturb historical distinctions in applying laches in other areas of intellectual property law, or any other area of law. Doing so would indeed be “a major departure from the long tradition of equity practice” in separate areas of the law, which “should not be lightly implied.” Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305, 320 (1982)."
|If the doctrine of laches was an animal....|
"Given the continuing investments that are required to support the long-term distribution of works such as motion pictures and books, copyright infringement claims in those fields that are brought years or decades after the dispositive events can impose significant evidentiary and economic prejudice on studios, publishers, and distributors. When a plaintiff engages in unreasonable delay that produces such prejudice, laches should be available as a potential defense to claims for equitable relief and money damages in the extraordinary cases where the laches standard is met.
Petitioner’s contention that applying laches in copyright cases would violate the constitutional separation of powers rests in part on the mistaken premise that judicial application of laches improperly displaces the legislative judgment embodied in the statute of limitations. But the doctrine of laches serves a distinct purpose and reflects a different set of judgments than the statute of limitations. Moreover, Congress legislates against the backdrop of traditional equitable doctrines, including laches. Petitioner does not dispute that other equitable doctrines such as tolling and estoppel may apply in copyright cases. There is no reason why laches should not also be available. To the contrary, nothing in the Copyright Act signals any congressional intent to dismantle courts’ traditional discretion to prevent a plaintiff’s unreasonable delay from causing significant prejudice."For an excellent summary of the oral arguments see this article in Bloomberg and for the oral transcript for all those copyright nerds out there (the Amerikat included) see this link here. If you are a sucker for advocacy you can listen to the oral argument on Oyez here. For more court documents click here.
Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Scientific Research's patents, including US 5 531 774 relating to a programmable cochlear stimulator. Based in Santa Clarita, California the foundation is a non-profit medical research foundation which commenced patent infringement proceedings against Cochlear in December 2007. Alfred E. Mann, otherwise known as the 204th richest man in America and an inventor of medical devices, founded several companies, nine of which it has sold for almost $8 billion.A quick patent search on Google pulled up 2,380 patent and patent applications for the foundation from neural prosthetics to high voltage rectifiers. The jury, having found that Cochlear wilfully infringed, awarded the foundation $131.2 million in damages. In a statement, Cochlear said that "no judgment had been entered based on the verdict as important issues still remain to be decided by the judge." They also stated that they would be asking the judge to overturn the verdict and may file an appeal. For more information see articles in Bloomberg and Australian Life Scientist.
Brooklyn Nets emblazoned on it (thanks dad!). Readers may recall that the Nets used to be based in New Jersey, but moved to their new home at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2012 with the support of one of it's previous owners, Jay-Z. Jay-Z has since sold his stake to head coach Jason Kidd. The Brooklyn Nets name is apparently at the heart of a new $600 million trade mark dispute filed by Dr. Fracois de Cassagnol. Dr. de Cassagnol filed a pro se complaint (i.e. representing himself) in the Eastern District Court of New York last December alleging that rapper Jay-Z (who is up for several Grammy awards this evening - see here) and Brooklyn Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner found loopholes in the USPTO in order to use the term that Dr. de Cassagnoi allegedly had used, originally in Louisiana, from 2003. However, Dr de Cassagnol only filed a trade mark application for the name in 2012. Dr de Cassagnol also claims that before the team moved to Brooklyn he was assured that they would not use the name "Brooklyn Nets" but would opt for "New York Nets". The USPTO had previously ruled that none of Dr de Cassagnol's uses were wide enough to prevent the registration of the NBA team's trade mark application. Readers can read the complaint here and the news report from BuisnessInsider here. In any event, Merpel and the AmeriKat think the life expectancy of this complaint will be a few lives short of the full nine.
|A view from the AmeriKat's|
"Our IP is constantly being infringed and we have to enforce our rights and to protect our players from confusion. We don’t enforce against all uses of CANDY—some are legitimate and of course, we would not ask App developers who use the term legitimately to stop doing so.
The particular App in this instance was called ‘Candy Casino Slots—Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land’, but its icon in the App store just says ‘Candy Slots’, focusing heavily on our trademark. … We believe this App name was a calculated attempt to use other companies’ IP to enhance its own games, through means such as search rankings."If push came to shove, the question may turn on whether consumers are confused into thinking that the other candy-games that have "candy' in their title are associated with King's blockbuster. For an addict like the AmeriKat, it isn't the name or inclusion of the word "candy", that reminds her she is playing Candy Crush, but the bright shapes and satisfying sounds when she matches four or five matching hard candies in a row. Pure unadulterated joy. For further information, see stories in Businessweek, BGR and GameZebo.