Yellowfin Yachts, Inc. v. Barker Boatworks, LLC

Yellowfin Yachts, Inc. is a manufacturer of high-end fishing boats. Since 2000, Yellowfin has produced predominantly “center-consoled, open-fisherman styled boats” ranging between twenty-one and forty-two feet. According to Yellowfin, these boats all have the same “swept” sheer line, meaning a gently sloped “s”-shaped line that runs upward from the point at which a boat’s hull intersects with the deck to the boat’s lofted bow. This swept sheer line, described by Yellowfin as “unique,” is the subject of its trade dress claims.

Yellowfin hired Kevin Barker in 2006 as a vice president of sales. Although Yellowfin presented Barker with a proposed employment agreement which included confidentiality clauses, Barker never executed the agreement. Barker left Yellowfin in 2014—not encumbered by a noncompetition or nonsolicitation contract—and founded a competitor, Barker Boatworks, LLC. On his last day at Yellowfin, Barker downloaded hundreds of files from Yellowfin’s main server. These files contained “detailed purchasing history and specifications for all of Yellowfin’s customers,” as well as “drawings” and “style images” for Yellowfin boats and “related manufacturing information.”

After leaving Yellowfin, Barker retained marine architect Michael Peters to design a twenty-six-foot bay boat based on Barker’s specifications. These specifications, according to Yellowfin, were derived directly from Yellowfin’s own bay boats, and the Barker boat’s sheer line nearly replicated that of Yellowfin. Barker Boatworks opened for business in July 2014 and has since competed with Yellowfin in the same “niche” center-console fishing-boat market.

In April 2015, Yellowfin filed a complaint against Barker Boatworks and Kevin Barker4 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. With leave of court, Yellowfin filed its First Amended Complaint, the operative complaint here, in September. In this complaint, Yellowfin pleads claims for trade dress infringement and false designation of origin under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), common-law unfair competition, common-law trade dress infringement, and violation of Florida’s Trade Secret Act.

After unsuccessfully moving to dismiss Yellowfin’s complaint, Barker Boatworks moved for summary judgment on all of Yellowfin’s claims. The District Court granted the motion in full. First, the Court provided three reasons why Yellowfin’s Lanham Act trade dress claim failed: Yellowfin did not adequately describe any distinctive feature of its sheer line, its sheer line is functional and thus not protectable as trade dress, and no reasonable jury could conclude that a potential buyer would likely confuse a Barker boat for a Yellowfin. The Court then held that, because a reasonable jury could not conclude that a potential buyer would likely confuse the two boats, Yellowfin’s claims of Section 43(a) false designation of origin, common-law trade dress infringement, and common-law unfair competition also fail. Finally, the Court found that Yellowfin failed to identify a protectable, misappropriated trade secret, and, regardless, that Yellowfin did not make “reasonable efforts” to protect all of its alleged trade secrets. The Court therefore rejected Yellowfin’s trade secret claim. Yellowfin appeals these rulings.

We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo and construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to Yellowfin. Ziegler v. Martin Cty. Sch. Dist., 831 F.3d 1309, 1318 (11th Cir. 2016). We first address the District Court’s trade dress rulings.

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Leapers, Inc. v. SMTS, LLC

Plaintiff Leapers, Inc. appeals the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Defendant Sun Optics USA in Plaintiff’s case alleging trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1051, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, we VACATE the district court’s judgment and REMAND the case for further proceedings.

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Arlington Specialties, Inc. v. Urban Aid, Inc.

This Lanham Act case turns on whether the shape and design of a small bag, modeled after a men’s Dopp Kit and used in personal care kits, are functional and therefore not protected as trade dress. Plaintiff sells personal care kits in such a bag. When another personal care kit seller copied plaintiff’s bag, plaintiff sued, claiming the bag was protected trade dress. The district court granted summary judgment in defendant’s favor, finding that the bag’s design and shape were functional. We agree, so we affirm the district court’s decision.

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Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N2G Distrib., Inc.

CLAY, Circuit Judge. These consolidated appeals arise from a jury trial followed by a contempt proceeding. At trial, Defendants N2G Distributing, Inc. (“N2G”) and Alpha Performance Labs were found to have infringed the trademark and trade dress of 5-hour ENERGY (“FHE”)—a product sold by Plaintiff Innovation Ventures, LLC—in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1051, et seq. The district court then held Defendants in contempt, along with their owner, Jeffrey Diehl, for violating the permanent injunction entered after trial. Defendants appeal many of the district court’s rulings, but for the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the district court in full.

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McAirlaids, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp.

McAirlaids, Inc. filed suit against Kimberly-Clark Corp. for trade-dress infringement and unfair competition under §§ 32(1)(a) and 43(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946 (“Lanham Act”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114(1)(a) and 1125(a), and Virginia common law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Kimberly-Clark, and McAirlaids appeals. Because questions of fact preclude summary judgment, we vacate and remand.

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Apple, Inv. v. Samsung Elecs. Co.

Apple Inc. appeals from an order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denying Apple’s request for a permanent injunction against Samsung Electronics Company, Ltd., Samsung Electronics America, Inc., and Samsung Telecommunications America, LLC (collectively, “Samsung”). See Apple Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., 909 F. Supp. 2d 1147 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (“Injunction Order”). Apple sought to enjoin Samsung’s infringement of several of Apple’s design and utility patents, as well as Samsung’s dilution of Apple’s iPhone trade dress. We affirm the denial of injunctive relief with respect to Apple’s design patents and trade dress. However, we vacate the denial of injunctive relief with respect to Apple’s utility patents and remand for further proceedings.

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Groeneveld Transp. Efficiency, Inc. v. Lubecore Int'l, Inc.

RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge. The key issue in this case is whether a company can use trade-dress law to protect its functional product design from competition with a “copycat” design made by another company where there is no reasonable likelihood that consumers would confuse the two companies’ products as emanating from a single source. We hold that it cannot. In so holding, we reaffirm that trademark law is designed to promote brand recognition, not to insulate product manufacturers from lawful competition.

Groeneveld Transport Efficiency, Inc. sued Lubecore International, Inc., claiming that Lubecore’s automotive grease pump is a “virtually identical” copy of Groeneveld’s automotive grease pump. The complaint asserts that such copying constitutes tradedress infringement in violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham (Trademark) Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and further violates a number of related federal and Ohio laws. All the claims except trade-dress infringement were dismissed when the district court granted Lubecore’s motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The trade-dress claim went to the jury, which found for Groeneveld and awarded it $1,225,000 in damages.

Lubecore appeals the denial of its Rule 50 motion with respect to the trade-dress claim. Groeneveld in turn cross-appeals from the dismissal of its other claims. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court denying Lubecore’s Rule 50 motion with respect to Groeneveld’s trade-dress claim, AFFIRM the district court’s dismissal of Groeneveld’s other claims, and REMAND the case with instructions to enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of Lubecore on all claims.

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