Defamation and Multiple Infringements: Recent Notable IP Lawsuits

We mentioned last month that the law can sometimes be wildly surprising and unpredictable.

Realistically, that doesn’t happen too often.

A lot of cases are resolved outside of court, decided on procedural grounds, or otherwise disposed of. So case law often changes slowly, particularly when it comes to certain types of law that are well settled.

But the fact that many disputes don’t end in trial doesn’t mean there are fewer cases. There will always be parties with something to disagree about.

Here are a few cases that have caught our eye over the past few months:

  • Apple lost a long-running patent infringement lawsuit… for now.

It’s nothing new for Apple to be involved in patent litigation. When you’re a tech company that big, it’s just part of a doing business.

But what some may find surprising is for Apple to be on the losing end of this particular suit. After eight long years of litigation, Apple was found guilty of infringement. At the heart of the dispute are four patents for related to FaceTime and iMessage owned by plaintiff VirnetX.

If you haven’t heard of VirnetX, you’re in good company. It’s not a well-known name like, say, Samsung.

VirnetX is a holding company that purchases patents and then uses litigation to assert or defend their rights related to those patents. For these types of companies, litigation is often their only source of income.

These businesses tend to have a bad public image. But they’re perfectly legal, and they’re often highly profitable. Case in point: Apple has been ordered to pay VirnetX more than half a billion dollars. $502.6 million, to be exact. And this isn’t the first verdict VirnetX has won against Apple.

Of course, the money is just a drop in the bucket for Apple, which made $20 billion in profit the first quarter of this year alone.

Though the money might be a moot point altogether. Because there’s a chance the verdict could be overturned…

There are a couple of relevant cases currently pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the court that hears all the patent appeals. In those cases, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board has said VirnetX’s patents are invalid.

It’s hard to imagine Apple won’t appeal on that basis. And if they win an appeal, Apple won’t need to pay anything.

And so the saga will likely continue…

  • Nikola sued Tesla, and their namesake would probably feel conflicted.

In a lawsuit that sounds either fated to happen or like a bad punchline, Nikola sued Tesla for patent infringement. The two companies have more in common name than just their name inspiration. Nikola builds zero-emissions trucks and Tesla creates electric vehicles.

Nikola’s lawsuit says the cabin of the Tesla Semi truck infringes on the design of the Nikola One. The former filed its design patents in December 2015 and produced a prototype a year later. Tesla announced its truck in July 2016 and showed off the purportedly infringing design in April 2017.

Under the first-to-file patent application system, it would seem that Nikola is protected. At the heart of the suit will likely be the issue of whether the patents are invalid for some other reason. If they’re valid, the next question will be whether they were truly infringed.

Nikola is seeking $2 billion in damages. You can see the designs of the truck cabins side by side here.

  • Before going public, Spotify was hit with a massive infringement suit.

In a suit filed the day before the defendant’s stock went public, Wixen Music Publishing alleged that Spotify has improperly used more than 10,000 of Wixen’s songs. The publisher is seeking $150,000 per infringement, for a whopping $1.5 billion total.

This isn’t the first time Spotify has faced a suit of this nature. The company recently settled another suit for $43 million.

But $1.5 billion? Wixen says its catalog is worth 1% to 5% of Spotify’s service offerings, so it should get a reasonable share of the revenue. The catalog includes hip hop artists like Missy Elliott, alternative rock acts like the Black Keys and Rage Against the Machine, and classic rock artists like the Beach Boys and Janis Joplin.

Spotify claims copyright law doesn’t apply to music that is streamed. However, unlike other services like Pandora, Spotify’s music isn’t simply streamed. Because listeners can select the tracks they want to listen to, the stream is interactive. That arguably requires different licenses, which Spotify has refused to pay for.

The suit pits a notoriously low-paying music subscription service against a publisher known for being a tough negotiator. It will be interesting to see what terms the parties end up coming to.

  • Olivia de Havilland appealed her loss in her defamation suit.

101-year old actress Olivia de Havilland has appealed her loss of her suit against FX Networks to the Supreme Court of California. A mainstay during the golden age of Hollywood, de Havilland had sued over the miniseries “Feud,” a fictionalized story about the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

In her complaint, de Havilland claimed she was inaccurately portrayed in the miniseries. The state appellate court, however, determined that the show’s creators were allowed the artistic license to embellish whatever was true historically.

On her behalf, de Havilland’s lawyer argues that the Court of Appeal opinion “rewards the unscrupulous and will put those who investigate and seek to tell the public the truth at an economic disadvantage.” Moreover, the opinion infringes not just on the right of de Havilland to a trial by journey, but also on the right of others in similar situations who may not be celebrities.

No word yet on whether California’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal.

Unsure about your legal rights? We can help.

Do you have questions about copyright, trademark, or patent law? Our firm, located in Boca Raton, FL, regularly handles both transactions and disputes around intellectual property and other civil matters. To learn how to protect your IP, use our website form to contact us.

Please note: this blog is intended to provide general information which should not be taken as legal advice.

Original article posted on our dedicated blog on May 14, 2018