Articles Posted in Jurisdiction and Venue

Fort Wayne, Indiana – The Northern District of Indiana has denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, citing the connection of the Northern District to the events underlying the litigation.

This Indiana trademark litigation, Family Express Corp. v. Square Donuts, Inc., was filed to resolve a dispute over the use of the words “Square Donuts” in connection with the sale of donuts by two different Indiana-based companies.

Defendant Square Donuts of Terre Haute, Indiana claims trademark rights to “Square Donuts” under federal and Indiana law. It currently sells its “Square Donuts” in bakeries located in southern and central Indiana, including locations in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Richmond.

Plaintiff Family Express of Valparaiso, Indiana operates convenience stores in northern Indiana and uses the term “Square Donuts” in conjunction with doughnut sales. Plaintiff states that both it and Defendant are expanding their respective businesses into new markets, with Defendant expanding to the north while Plaintiff expands to the south. Thus, territory in which both operate concurrently has become a possibility.

In 2006, Defendant sent a cease-and-desist letter to Plaintiff. Plaintiff and Defendant subsequently discussed the possibility of entering into a co-existence arrangement, but did reach an agreement.

This trademark lawsuit followed. Plaintiff asks the Indiana federal court to declare that its use of the term does not infringe on the trademark rights in “Square Donuts” asserted by Defendant. Plaintiff also asks the court to cancel Defendant’s existing Indiana and federal “Square Donuts” trademarks.

Trademark litigators for Defendant asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that it had been filed in an improper venue. In evaluating whether venue in the Northern District was permissible, the court first noted that, while it “must resolve all factual disputes and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor,” Plaintiff then bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper. It also noted that venue can be proper in more than one district.

The federal venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), provides that venue can exist in “(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants reside [in the same state]” or “(2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of the property that is the subject of the action is situated.”

Plaintiff relied on subsection (b)(2), claiming that a substantial part of the events giving rise to the lawsuit took place in the Northern District of Indiana. To establish venue, Plaintiff pointed to the fact that Defendant’s cease-and-desist letter and other communications had been relayed to Plaintiff in the Northern District. At least some rulings by districts courts located within the Seventh Circuit have held that the requirements for venue “may be satisfied by a communication transmitted to or from the district in which the cause of action was filed, given a sufficient relationship between the communication and the cause of action.”

The Northern District of Indiana concluded that such communications, which would be a typical element of litigation under the Declaratory Judgment Act, would defeat the purpose of protecting a defendant from having to litigate “in the plaintiff’s home forum, without regard to the inconvenience to the defendant at having to defend an action in that forum or whether the defendant has engaged in substantial activities in that forum.”

Instead, the Indiana court considered the underlying substance of the dispute: “whether the Defendant’s Square Donuts trademark is valid and, if it is, whether the Plaintiff nevertheless has refrained from infringing on the trademark in connection with the sale of its Square Donuts.” The court concluded that, given the extent to which the claims and events at issue in the litigation took place in both the Northern and the Southern District of Indiana, venue was not improper in the Northern District of Indiana.

Practice Tip #1: If neither subsection (b)(1) nor (b)(2) of 28 U.S.C. § 1391 applies, a third subsection may be utilized. That subsection, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(3), permits venue in “any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.”

Practice Tip #2: An inquiry into proper venue for a lawsuit is different from one into personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction “goes to the court’s power to exercise control over a party,” while venue is “primarily a matter of choosing a convenient forum.”

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Indianapolis, Indiana – Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson dismissed a lawsuit by Indiana copyright attorney and professional photographer Richard Bell against Defendant Find Tickets, LLC of Alpharetta, Georgia for lack of personal jurisdiction.

In June 2015, Bell sued Find Tickets in the Southern District of Indiana asserting copyright infringement. He stated that the Georgia-based company had published a copyrighted photo on its website,, without his permission. The photo in question was one that Bell had taken of the downtown Indianapolis skyline. It had been registered by the U.S. Copyright Office under Registration No. VA0001785115.

On behalf of Find Tickets, a copyright lawyer asked the court to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, averring that Find Tickets “does not maintain any offices in Indiana, has no employees in Indiana, holds no assets in Indiana, pays no taxes to the state of Indiana, and has no bank or other financial institution accounts in Indiana.” It was further stated that the business was owned by two Georgia residents, neither of whom had ever set foot in Indiana.

The court turned to a constitutional analysis of the due process requirements for personal jurisdiction, as elucidated by the Seventh Circuit in Advanced Tactical Ordnance Sys., LLC v. Real Action Paintball, Inc., 751 F.3d 796, 800-01 (7th Cir. 2014). Citing that appellate case, the district court stated:

Due process is satisfied so long as the defendant had “certain minimum contacts” with the forum state such that the “maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” The relevant contacts are those that center on the relations among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation. However, “[f]or a State to exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process, the defendant’s suit-related conduct must create a substantial connection with the forum State.” Thus, the relation between the defendant and the forum “must arise out of contacts that the ‘defendant himself‘ creates with the forum . . . .” Moreover, although no special test exists for internet-based cases, the Court focuses on whether the defendant has purposely exploited the Indiana market beyond the availability of the website in the forum state. (Citations omitted).

The district court was unpersuaded by Bell’s arguments, opining that the Seventh Circuit precedent set forth in Advanced Tactical “established that a defendant who ‘maintains a website that is accessible to Indiana residents should not be haled into court simply because the defendant owns or operates a website that is accessible in the forum state, even if it is ‘interactive.'”

The court similarly held that, as with Advanced Tactical, Defendant’s sales to residents of the forum state were insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction as it had not been demonstrated that such sales were related to the lawsuit.

Finding no personal jurisdiction over Defendant, the court dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice.

Practice Tip: Overhauser Law Offices, publisher of this blog, represented Defendants Real Action Paintball, Inc. and its president in the appeal to the Seventh Circuit.

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Hammond, Indiana – Trademark litigation commenced in the Western District of Michigan in 2013 was transferred to the Northern District of Indiana yesterday.

This federal lawsuit, filed by trademark attorneys for Plaintiffs Texas Roadhouse, Inc. and Texas Roadhouse Delaware LLC, both of Louisville, Kentucky, alleges infringement of U.S. Service Mark Reg. No. 1,833,533, U.S. Service Mark Reg. No. 2,231,309, and U.S. Service Mark Reg. No. 2,250,966. These marks have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Defendants listed in the Michigan complaint were Texas Corral Restaurants, Inc.; Switzer Properties, LLC; Texcor, Inc.; Texas Corral Restaurant II, Inc.; T.C. of Michigan City, Inc.; T.C. of Kalamazoo, Inc.; Chicago Roadhouse Concepts, LLC; Paul Switzer; Victor Spina; and John Doe Corp. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, transfer venue, with the Michigan court, which was granted. The lawsuit will continue in the Northern District of Indiana.

Plaintiffs, via their trademark lawyers, asserted the following claims:

• Count I: Trade Dress Infringement
• Count II: Federal Trademark Infringement
• Count III: Trademark Infringement Under Michigan Statutory Law
• Count IV: Trademark Infringement Under Indiana Statutory Law
• Count V: Trademark Infringement Under Common Law
• Count VI: Copyright Infringement

• Count VII: Unfair Competition Under Michigan and Indiana Common Law

Texas Roadhouse seeks equitable relief; damages, including punitive damages; costs and attorney fees.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – In the matter of Bell v. Find Tickets, LLC, the Southern District of Indiana quashed overbroad discovery requests and limited inquiries to those pertaining to the matter of personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff Richard Bell of McCordsville, Indiana photographed the Indianapolis skyline in 2000 and copyrighted the work. In this copyright lawsuit, Bell, acting as his own copyright attorney, alleges that Defendant Find Tickets of Alpharetta, Georgia published the photo on a website without Bell’s permission.

As part of the litigation, Bell propounded multiple interrogatories to Defendant. Defendant asked the court to quash this discovery, characterizing it as “far exceed[ing] the scope of a reasonable jurisdictional inquiry.” Defendant also asked for a protective order prohibiting Bell from deposing Find Tickets’ officers.

Writing for the court, Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore noted that Defendant’s own affidavit had estimated that “less than 1% of Find Tickets [sic] income is from Indiana related sales.” Consequently, the court concluded that, while personal jurisdiction might eventually be found to be lacking, this small amount of business was sufficient as the required “colorable showing” that jurisdiction over Defendant might exist. Consequently, the court ruled that jurisdictional discovery would be permitted.

However, the court also found that the interrogatories that had been served had been too broad for the limited question of establishing whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Defendant was proper. Judge Dinsmore ordered that the interrogatories be limited to inquiries that would support that “Defendant had extensive and pervasive contact with Indiana (general jurisdiction) or that Defendant ‘purposely availed’ itself of the privilege of conducting business in Indiana and the alleged copyright infringement arose from Defendant’s conducting business in Indiana (specific jurisdiction).” The court revised Plaintiff Bell’s interrogatories to limit them to the relevant jurisdictional matters, pending a ruling on Defendant’s separate motion to dismiss, and ordered that Defendant respond by December 1, 2015.

Defendant’s motion to quash the deposition of the owner of Find Tickets was also granted as the court found that such a deposition was unnecessary under the circumstances.

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Hammond, Indiana – Trademark and patent attorneys for Simpson Performance Products, Inc. of Mooresville, North Carolina (“Simpson”) and SFI Foundation, Inc. of Poway, California (“SFI”) commenced trademark litigation in the Western District of North Carolina alleging that Robert Wagoner of North Judson, Indiana and Derek Randall Cathcart of Valparaiso, Indiana infringed the SIMPSON® family of trademarks, some of which have been registered by the U.S. Trademark Office. The case was transferred to the Northern District of Indiana. Among the trademarks at issue are U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 4,117,821; 1,243,427; 3,026,333; 3,026,334; and 3,050,920. Also at issue are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,931,669 and 8,272,074.

Plaintiff Simpson is a manufacturer of automotive and motorsports specialty/performance products, including head and neck restraints for competitive racing. The Simpson brand of automotive and motorsports products has existed 1959. Plaintiff SFI was established to develop and administer minimum performance standards for the automotive aftermarket and motorsports industries, including standards for specialty/performance racing equipment.

Simpson offers for sale the SIMPSON® Hybrid PRO Rage™ head and neck restraint. Simpson indicates that this product is one of the few such devices to be certified under a special classification, SFI SPEC 38.1, for use in NASCAR competitions.

Defendants Wagoner and Carthcart have been accused of engaging in the business of providing specialty/performance racing equipment, including head and neck restraints that are counterfeit versions of Simpson products. Plaintiffs contend that Wagoner is offering counterfeit head and neck restraints through Plaintiffs allege that Cathcart offers counterfeit head and neck restraints via the website

These restraints, Plaintiffs contend, bear trademarks owned by Simpson, including the SIMPSON® federally registered trademark as well as the HUTCHENS Hybrid PRO™ and Hybrid PRO™ common law trademarks.

The accused products also allegedly bear a label that falsely states, “This product designed & manufactured by Safety Solutions, Inc. PATENT NO.: 6931669; other patents pending.” According to Plaintiffs, the alleged counterfeiting activities of Defendants also constitute patent infringement.

In this lawsuit, filed by patent and trademark lawyers for Plaintiffs, the following causes of action are listed:

• Trademark Infringement
• Unfair Competition under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); False Designation of Origin; False or Misleading Advertising
• Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices under N.C. [North Carolina] Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1
• Patent Infringment [sic]

• Common Law Fraud

Plaintiffs ask for a finding in their favor on each of the counts alleged, including a finding that the conduct was knowing and willful, and entry against each Defendant jointly and severally. Plaintiffs seek costs, attorneys’ fees and damages, including enhanced damages, as well as injunctive relief.

This federal trademark complaint was initially filed in the Western District of North Carolina in February 2015. In May 2015, District Judge Richard Voorhees ordered it to be transferred to the Northern District of Indiana, finding that the North Carolina court lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants.

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A computer programmer for the Mega copyright piracy conspiracy, Andrus Nomm, 36, of Estonia, pleaded guilty recently in connection with his involvement with and associated piracy websites. He was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for conspiring to commit felony copyright infringement.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew G. McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia accepted the guilty plea and imposed the sentence.

“This conviction is a significant step forward in the largest criminal copyright case in U.S. history,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “The Mega conspirators are charged with massive worldwide online piracy of movies, music and other copyrighted U.S. works. We intend to see to it that all those responsible are held accountable for illegally enriching themselves by stealing the creative work of U.S. artists and creators.”

Indianapolis, Indiana – Texas defamation and franchise attorneys for Property Damage 


Appraisers (“PDA”), in conjunction with Indiana co-counsel, sued alleging that John Mosley (“Mosley”), owner of the Clinton Body Shop, Inc. of Clinton, Mississippi, committed unfair competition under the Lanham Act by falsely representing the nature of an estimate made by one of PDA’s franchisees. Various state-law claims have also been pled to the court. This unfair competition lawsuit was initially filed in Indiana state court. It was removed from the Marion County Superior Court to the Southern District of Indiana by Indiana intellectual property attorneys for Defendants.

Plaintiff PDA is a national franchisor with a network of approximately 185 independent franchisees that are in the business of performing inspections on vehicles and other property. It has been in business for over 50 years. Defendant Mosley is the owner of the Clinton Body Shop. Clinton Body Shop advertises itself as a one-stop, full-service shop for automobile services.

Mosley is accused of inducing a PDA franchisee, John Larry Gentry, into providing a nonconforming auto-services estimate on PDA letterhead. PDA contends that Gentry was told that this estimate was only for comparison purposes and that it would be provided only to the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

PDA claims that, instead, Mosley subsequently e-mailed this estimate to the Indiana Auto Body Association. PDA also asserts that Mosley mischaracterized the contents of, and process involved in writing, the estimate. According to the complaint, Mosley also delivered this nonconforming estimate to “other body shops around the country, making the same misrepresentations.”

In its complaint, filed by Texas defamation and franchise lawyers for PDA, in conjunction with Indiana co-counsel, the following counts are listed:

• Count I: Federal Unfair Competition (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a))
• Count II: State Unfair Competition
• Count III: Defamation
• Count IV: Tortious Interference with Business Relationships

PDA asks the court for damages, including exemplary damages; interest; attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs; and a permanent injunction.

Practice Tip: The vast majority of Indiana intellectual property litigation takes place in federal court, as the intellectual property causes of action that are most often litigated creations of federal statutory law. Thus, they may be heard in federal court under federal-question jurisdiction. However, some intellectual property lawsuits – for example, litigation involving a trademark that is registered only with the state of Indiana and used solely within Indiana’s boundaries – may occur in Indiana state court.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – In the matter of American Petroleum Institute v. Bullseye Automotive Products, et al., Indiana trademark litigators Paul B. Overhauser and John M. Bradshaw of Overhauser Law Offices, attorneys for Carlos Silva, petitioned the court to dismiss Silva for lack of personal jurisdiction. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted the motion to dismiss.

In July 2013, Indiana trademark attorneys for American Petroleum Institute (“API”) of Washington, D.C. sued in the Southern District of Indiana alleging that Bullseye Automotive Products Inc. and Bullseye Lubricants Inc., both of Chicago, Illinois (collectively, “Bullseye”), and Carlos Silva of Chicago Ridge, Illinois infringed registered API “Starburst” and “Donut” trademarks, Registration Nos. 1864428, 1868779, and 1872999.

The Bullseye entities are Illinois corporations that bottle and sell motor oil. Defendant Silva is the sole incorporator and shareholder of the Bullseye entities. Plaintiff API is a trade association for the petroleum and natural-gas industry.

API brought various claims against Bullseye and Silva as an individual, including trademark infringement and trademark dilution. It claimed that Bullseye’s labeling infringed on its “Starburst” and “Donut” certification marks. While Bullseye did not contest jurisdiction in Indiana, trademark lawyers for Silva asked the court to dismiss the claims against him for lack of personal jurisdiction.

API countered that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Silva in Indiana was proper, contending that Silva personally directed the allegedly infringing activities, that he exercised complete control over Bullseye and that he and Bullseye were essentially the same entity for jurisdictional purposes. API made no argument that Silva personally had sufficient contacts with Indiana to permit an Indiana court to exercise personal jurisdiction.

The court rejected API’s “alter-ego” theory of personal jurisdiction, stating that this argument pertained to liability, not jurisdiction. Even if the court determined that Silva were the alter ego of Bullseye, a finding that the court explicitly declined to make, such potential for liability for corporate acts was held to be irrelevant to the question of personal jurisdiction. In so ruling, the court stated that it was refusing to disregard the corporate form and bypass the protections it offers, citing the longstanding rule that a “corporation exists separately from its shareholders, officers, directors and related corporations….”

The court then analyzed whether it would be appropriate to exercise personal jurisdiction over Silva based on his personal contacts with the state of Indiana. It concluded that Silva as an individual had not purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities within Indiana such that he would reasonably anticipate being haled into an Indiana court. Finding that the minimum contacts necessary had not been established, the court held that exercising personal jurisdiction over Silva would offend due process and the “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice” and dismissed Silva from the lawsuit.

Practice Tip: Many of the arguments API made – for example, that Silva personally selected the text and design for Bullseye’s labels, that he personally negotiated with suppliers and that he oversaw production – do not support an “alter ego” theory. Activities such as these must necessarily be carried out by the sole shareholder of a small corporation. To find that a small corporation is the alter ego of a sole shareholder merely because that shareholder acts on behalf of the company would violate the basic principles of corporation law.

Paul B. Overhauser, Managing Partner of Overhauser Law Offices, also recently prevailed on the issue of personal jurisdiction in the Seventh Circuit in another lawsuit alleging trademark infringement.

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Fort Waynpackaging.pnge, Indiana Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey of the Northern District of Indiana denied the motion for transfer filed by patent attorneys for Anchor Packaging, Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri (“Anchor”). Anchor sought a transfer of the declaratory judgment action filed by Mullinix Packages, Inc. of Fort Wayne, Indiana (“Mullinix”) to the Eastern District of Missouri where Anchor has a related, but later-filed infringement suit pending against Mullinix. Both patent infringement lawsuits pertain to the alleged infringement by Mullinix of Patent Nos. D679,587; D675,919 and D570,681, which were issued by the U.S. Patent Office.

Anchor and Mullinix are competitors in the commercial packaging industry. Prior to 2010, Anchor had been the primary supplier of mashed potato containers to Bob Evans Farms, Inc., a position now assumed by Mullinix. According to Mullinix, mashed potato container sales peak dramatically during the fourth quarter of the year and Mullinix’s ability to meet Bob Evans’s demand for containers during this period is critical to maintaining a successful relationship. It was around this time that patent lawyers for Anchor demanded that Mullinix cease and desist selling a tray that Anchor asserted was of a substantially similar design as trays claimed in three of Anchor’s patents.

While the cease-and-desist letter sent by Anchor’s patent counsel indicated that Anchor’s “interest is a resolution of this matter and not litigation,” Mullinix filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Northern District of Indiana shortly thereafter. Several weeks later, Anchor responded by filing a complaint for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Missouri.

In this opinion, Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey, writing for the Northern District of Indiana, addresses Anchor’s motion to transfer Mullinix’s Indiana complaint for declaratory judgment for patent non-infringement to Missouri.

Anchor argued that the case should be transferred because (1) Mullinix filed its declaratory judgment action in anticipation of Anchor’s infringement suit, (2) a critical non-party witness is outside this Court’s subpoena power, but within the range of the Eastern District of Missouri, and (3) the Eastern District of Missouri is a more convenient forum.

The court evaluated Anchor’s request for transfer under § 1404(a) under precedent set by the Seventh Circuit. Under § 1404(a), a court may transfer a case if the moving party shows that: (1) venue was proper in the transferor district, (2) venue and jurisdiction would be proper in the transferee district, and (3) the transfer will serve in the convenience of the parties and the witnesses as well as the interests of justice.

As neither party disputed that both the Indiana and Missouri courts have jurisdiction and are proper venues, the court focused its analysis on the third factor. As the party requesting transfer, Anchor has the burden to show that the Eastern District of Missouri would be “clearly more convenient” than the Northern District of Indiana. In evaluating convenience, the factors to consider are: “(1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum, (2) the situs of the material events, (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof, (4) the convenience of the parties, and (5) the convenience of the witnesses.”

The first factor, the plaintiff’s choice of forum, was held to be neutral. In general, a plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to substantial deference, particularly where the chosen forum is the plaintiff’s home forum. However, the court found that this factor did not weigh in either direction. In this case, there are two plaintiffs in two different fora. As a result, one of them will necessarily be disturbed.

The evaluation of the situs of the material events weighed against transfer. In patent infringement actions “the situs of the injury is the location, or locations, at which the infringing activity directly impacts on the interests of the patentee.” Mullinix is headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is in the Northern District of Indiana, and keeps its documents pertaining to the accused infringing products in Fort Wayne. Additionally, two of the individuals who worked on the accused infringing products work and reside within the district.

For similar reasons, the court held the third factor, relative ease of access to sources of proof, to weigh against transfer.

The court briefly addressed the fourth factor, the convenience of the parties, noting that there was no way to avoid inconveniencing either one party or the other. In such a circumstance, the court held that “when the inconvenience of the alternative venues is comparable there is no[] basis for a change of venue; the tie is awarded to the plaintiff[.]”

Finally, the court addressed the fifth factor, the convenience of non-party witnesses, noting that this element was “often considered the most important factor in the transfer analysis.” The court noted with some displeasure that the parties had perhaps been disingenuous in arguing this factor. After a discussion of the evidence that had been submitted, it concluded that the parties had failed to provide it with much enlightenment on the subject and, as a result, the court was largely left to speculate about the convenience of non-party witnesses. The court thus held that this analysis-of-transfer factor was neutral.

In sum, it was found that the convenience factors did not support transfer.

The court also evaluated the interests-of-justice inquiry. On the whole, these factors – the speed to trial, familiarity with the applicable law, desirability of resolving controversies and relation of each community to the controversy – also weighed against transfer.

Finally, the court addressed the first-filed analysis under Federal Circuit precedent, which governs declaratory judgment actions in patent cases. Given that no “sound reason” for transfer had been found in the earlier analysis, court dismissed the first-filed analysis as “ancillary” and largely non-dispositive.

Practice Tip #1: The first-to-file rule is a doctrine of federal comity that generally favors pursuing only the first-filed action when multiple lawsuits involving the same claims are filed in different jurisdictions. It was designed to avoid conflicting decisions and promote judicial efficiency. Finding an exception to the first-to-file rule requires a “sound reason that would make it unjust or inefficient to continue the first-filed action.”

Practice Tip #2: A court may also consider the extent to which a declaratory judgment action is anticipatory and motivated by forum shopping. However, the Federal Circuit has repeatedly held that a finding that a filing was anticipatory does not in itself constitute sufficient legal reason to transfer or dismiss the first-filed case.

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Chicago, Illinois – Indiana trademark attorney Paul B. Overhauser, on behalf of K.T. Tran andRAP4Photo.JPG Real Action Paintball, Inc., a California corporation (collectively “RAP4”), argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that the trademark infringement suit brought in the Northern District of Indiana by Advanced Tactical Ordnance Systems, LLC, an Indiana corporation (“ATO”), was not properly before the Indiana court, as it lacked personal jurisdiction over RAP4. The Seventh Circuit agreed and instructed the district court to dismiss the complaint.

RAP4 and ATO are competitors in the “irritant projectile” market. Unlike the more familiar game of paintball, in which a paint-filled sphere is shot at opponents as part of a war game, these irritant projectiles are used by the police and military to intervene in hostile situations where lethal force is unnecessary. While paintballs are filled with paint, irritant projectiles use capsaicin, the active ingredient in pepper spray. Irritant projectiles, thus, allow law enforcement personnel to use less-than-lethal force from a distance.

Among the many issues in this lawsuit, including assertions by ATO of trade-dress infringement, unfair competition and misappropriation of trade secrets, were allegations that RAP4 had infringed the trademarked term “PEPPERBALL,” to which ATO claimed ownership. That trademark, Registration No. 2716025, was issued in 1999 by the U.S. Trademark Office to a non-party to this suit.

The trouble began when another company, non-party PepperBall Technologies, Inc. (“PTI”), began to have financial problems. PTI had also been a competitor in the irritant-projectile market. To address its difficulties, PTI held a foreclosure sale, the validity of which was hotly contested. ATO claimed that it had purchased PTI’s trademarks – including “PEPPERBALL” – and other property during this foreclosure sale.

During the time that PTI ceased its operations and was attempting to convey its assets, RAP4 was contacted by an executive of non-party APON, a company which had manufactured some of PTI’s irritant projectiles. He asked if RAP4 was interested in acquiring irritant projectiles from APON.

RAP4 agreed to purchase irritant projectiles from APON. After having negotiated this access to APON’s machinery, recipes, and materials – which had had at one time been used by PepperBall Technologies Inc. – RAP4 announced this fact to the people on its e-mail list. Specifically, it stated in its e-mail that it had acquired access to, “machinery, recipes, and materials once used by PepperBall Technologies Inc.” It was this language to which ATO, which claimed to be the successor in interest to PTI, particularly objected.

ATO sent a cease-and-desist letter to RAP4. In response, RAP4 added a disclaimer that it was not affiliated with PTI. ATO then sued in the Northern District of Indiana. It claimed several different theories of recovery, including intentional violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1111 et seq., common law trademark infringement and unfair competition, trade dress infringement, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Of particular interest to the Seventh Circuit in addressing this Indiana trademark litigation was the issue of personal jurisdiction over RAP4 in the Northern District of Indiana. RAP4 contested that such jurisdiction over it was lacking. ATO countered that RAP4 had sufficient contacts, including a “blast e-mail” announcement from RAP4 that would suffice for jurisdiction in Indiana, stating that “many [RAP4 customers] are located here in the state of Illinois. I mean, state of Indiana.” It also contended that RAP4 regularly e-mailed customers or potential customers from all over the United States, including Indiana, and that RAP4 had made at least one sale to an Indiana resident.

ATO conceded that it lacked general jurisdiction. Thus, the Seventh Circuit turned to an analysis of specific jurisdiction. “For a State to exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process, the defendant’s suit-related conduct must create a substantial connection with the forum State,” noted the appellate court. Moreover, the relation between the defendant and the forum “must arise out of contacts that the ‘defendant himself’ creates with the forum.”

In determining that personal jurisdiction existed, the Indiana district court had relied on several facts: “first, [RAP4] fulfilled several orders of the allegedly infringing projectiles for purchasers in Indiana; second, it knew that Advanced Tactical was an Indiana company and could foresee that the misleading emails and sales would harm Advanced Tactical in Indiana; third, it sent at least two misleading email blasts to a list that included Indiana residents; fourth, it had an interactive website available to residents of Indiana; and finally, it put customers on its email list when they made a purchase, thereby giving the company some economic advantage.”

The Seventh Circuit held that these facts were insufficient to support specific jurisdiction. The only Indiana sales that would have been relevant were those that related to RAP4’s allegedly unlawful activity. ATO failed to meet its burden of proof of any such Indiana sales. Similarly, the court held that any effects that were purportedly felt in Indiana by ATO did not support specific jurisdiction. Instead, the relation between RAP4 and the Indiana forum “must arise out of contacts that the defendant himself creates with the forum State.”

Further, neither RAP4’s e-mail communications nor its website were held to create specific jurisdiction. If such contacts were sufficient, the court held, there would be no limiting principle on personal jurisdiction and a plaintiff could sue almost any defendant with an Internet presence or which utilized e-mail in almost any forum in the United States or the world. To find jurisdiction on such vanishingly small contacts would offend the long-held and traditional “notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the Indiana district court with instructions to vacate the judgment and dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Practice Tip #1: RAP4’s references to “Pepperball Technologies, Inc.” could not as a matter of law constitute trademark infringement, counterfeiting or false advertising. Instead, RAP4’s use of its competitor’s name is a merely a wholly permissible nominative use of that mark. As a matter of law, a “nominative use of a mark – where the only word reasonably available to describe a particular thing is pressed into service – lies outside the strictures of trademark law.”

Practice Tip #2: Personal jurisdiction is an essential element of federal court jurisdiction, without which the court is powerless to adjudicate the matter before it. However, a defendant’s argument that personal jurisdiction does not exist can easily be waived inadvertently by the incautious litigant. In this case, an evidentiary hearing regarding personal jurisdiction was conducted in December 2012. It was only by careful preservation of this argument by trademark counsel for RAP4 while litigating in the district court that the appellate court was able to hear RAP4’s claim and reverse the district court.

Practice Tip #3: This case was successfully argued before the Seventh Circuit by Paul B. Overhauser, Managing Partner of Overhauser Law Offices.

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