Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Intellectual Property
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Vitamin Energy is the defendant in 5-hour Energy’s 2019 lawsuit under the Lanham Act for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, false advertising, and trademark dilution; 5-hour also made claims under Michigan law for trademark infringement, indirect trademark infringement, and unfair competition. Vitamin Energy was insured by Evanston. In a declaratory judgment action, the district court decided Evanston had no duty to defend. The Third Circuit vacated. Pennsylvania law imposes on insurers a broad duty to defend lawsuits brought against those they insure. An insured’s burden to establish its insurer’s duty to defend is light, and Vitamin Energy has carried it. The policy excludes coverage for Advertising Injury, defined as an injury “arising out of oral or written publication of material that libels or slanders.” While some allegations of the complaint involve disparagement, others do not. An underlying complaint need only contain at least one allegation that falls within the scope of the policy’s coverage for the duty to defend to be triggered. The duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. Similarly, exclusions for suits based on “Intellectual Property,” “Incorrect Description,” “Failure to Conform,” and “Knowing” actions do not defeat the duty to defend. View "Vitamin Energy LLC v. Evanston Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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In 2012 Navajo Nation sued for trademark infringement, alleging that Urban Outfitters “advertised, promoted, and sold goods under the ‘Navaho’ and ‘Navajo’ names and marks” on the Internet and in retail stores “[s]ince at least March 16, 2009.” Urban Outfitters tendered the complaint to its insurers. OneBeacon provided commercial general and umbrella liability coverage to Urban Outfitters until July 7, 2010, with “personal and advertising injury” coverage. On July 7, 2010, Hanover became the responsible insurer under a “fronting policy.” On July 7, 2011 Hanover issued separate commercial general liability and umbrella liability policies to Urban Outfitters. The “fronting policy” and Hanover-issued policies excluded coverage for “personal and advertising injury” liability “arising out of oral or written publication of material whose first publication took place before the beginning of the policy period.” After providing a reservation of rights letter, informing Urban Outfitters of Hanover and OneBeacon’s joint retention of defense counsel, Hanover obtained a judicial a declaration that it was not responsible for defense or indemnification. The Third Circuit affirmed.The “prior publication” exclusion of liability insurance contracts prevents a company from obtaining ongoing insurance coverage for a continuing course of tortious conduct. Urban Outfitters engaged in similar liability-triggering behavior both before and during Hanover’s coverage period. View "Hanover Ins. Co v. Urban Outfitters Inc" on Justia Law

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Smart Candle sells light-emitting diode flameless candles and commercial lighting systems internationally. Excell sued under the LanhamAct alleging that Smart Candle’s use of the trade name and trademark “Smart Candle” infringed rights that Excell had over use of that name and trademark. Selective insured Smart Candle during the period in which the Excell suit commenced, but disclaimed coverage, based on exclusion any injury “arising out of the infringement of copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other intellectual property rights” that “does not apply to infringement in your ‘advertisement’ of copyright, trade dress or slogan.” Excell won its suit. Selective sought a declaration that it owed no duty to defend or indemnify. Smart Candle counterclaimed breach of contract, arguing that Selective had not conducted “reasonable investigation of Excell’s Claims” including “a review of Smart Candle’s website . . . or any of Smart Candle’s advertising before denying coverage.” The district court granted Selective summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that no reasonable jury would conclude that Excell was suing for slogan infringement and that Selective had no duty to investigate “beyond the four corners of the complaint” to determine whether other facts could trigger Selective’s duty to defend or indemnify. View "Selective Ins. Co. v. Smart Candle, LLC" on Justia Law

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Buckminster Fuller, “Bucky,” a designer, author, and inventor, well known for popularizing the geodesic dome, died in 1983. Beginning around 2009, Maxfield manufactured and distributed products under the Buckyball and related trademarks. According to its press release, Buckyballs, “the world’s best-selling desktoy,” were “inspired and named after famous … inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller.” Buckyballs are round magnets packaged in a cube shape, which can be formed into various shapes. The Big Book of Bucky, which provides instructions, states: Buckyballs were named for Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s Estate sued, alleging: unfair competition, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a) (Lanham Act); invasion of privacy (appropriation of name and likeness); unauthorized use of name and likeness, Cal. Civil Code 3344.1; and violation of Cal. Business & Professions Code 17200. Alterra had issued an insurance policy to Maxfield, effective June 2010. Alterra agreed to defend under a reservation of rights, then sought a declaration that Alterra’s policy did not provide coverage. The Estate agreed to be bound by the outcome in return for being dismissed. Because of Maxfield’s stipulation to the allegations in the coverage action and acting without leave, the Estate later responded to Alterra’s complaint. The court of appeal affirmed a holding that Alterra had no duty to defend and no duty to indemnify, based on the “intellectual property” exclusion. View "Alterra Excess & Surplus Ins. Co. v. Estate of Buckminster Fuller" on Justia Law

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Since enacting a program for black-lung benefits in 1969, known as the Black Lung Benefits Act,83 Stat. 742, Congress has repeatedly amended the claim-filing process, sometimes making it harder for miners and survivors to obtain benefits, sometimes making it easier. The most recent adjustment, part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, reinstated a presumption that deceased workers who had worked for at least 15 years in underground coal mines and had developed a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment were presumed to be totally disabled by pneumoconiosis and to have died from it. The presumption is rebuttable. The Act also reinstated automatic benefits to any survivor of a miner who had been awarded benefits on a claim filed during his lifetime, 124 Stat. at 260. Groves, a miner for 29 years, filed a claim for benefits in 2006 and died four months later. An ALJ denied his widow benefits. The law changed while her appeal was pending. The Benefits Review Board concluded that the new law covered this claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Vision Processing, LLC v. Groves" on Justia Law

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ProLink and GPS compete, manufacturing and selling GPS-based golf course distance measurement and course management products. GPS owns the 518 patent for a player positioning and distance finding system and sued ProLink for patent infringement. GPS also claimed slander of title and unfair competition, alleging that ProLink falsely represented that it owned an exclusive license under the patent as part of a security agreement with Comerica Bank. This agreement was recorded and allegedly encumbered GPS’s title. ProLink entered into a second agreement, this time representing that it owned outright the 518 security agreement. ProLink was insured under Federal’s commercial general liability insurance policy and requested defense. Federal informed ProLink that it would not defend or indemnify because GPS’s allegations did not satisfy the policy definition of “personal injury;” if they did, the Intellectual Property Laws or Rights Exclusion or Expected or Intended Injury Exclusion would apply. ProLink sought declaratory judgment that Federal breached its duty to defend. The district court found in favor of Federal , holding that the first alleged “personal injury” for which GPS sought damages (2006) occurred outside of the policy period (2007-2008). The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The underlying allegations concern only disparagement of property, which is not covered. View "ProLink Holdings Corp. v. Federal Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Bancorp owns the 792 and 037 patents, for tracking value of life insurance policies in separate accounts, under which the policy owner pays a premium beyond that required for the death benefit and specifies types of assets in which additional funds are invested. Corporations use the policies to insure employees’ lives and fund retirement benefits on a tax-advantaged basis. The value of a separate account policy fluctuates; owners must report the value of their policies. The patents provide a computerized means for tracking book and market values and calculating stable value guarantee. Bancorp sued Sun Life for infringement. In another suit, the court invalidated the 792 patent for indefiniteness. Bancorp and Sun Life stipulated to conditional dismissal on collateral estoppel. The Federal Circuit reversed the other case. The district court vacated dismissal then granted summary judgment of invalidity under section 101 (ineligible abstract ideas) without addressing claim construction and analyzing each claim as a process claim. Applying “the machine-or-transformation test,” specified computer components are only objects on which claimed methods operate, and the central processor is a general purpose computer programmed in an unspecified manner for a process that can be completed manually. The claims “do not transform the raw data into anything other than more data and are not representations of any physically existing objects.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Bancorp Servs., L.L.C. v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada" on Justia Law