Planetary Motion, Inc. v. Techplosion, Inc., 261 F.3d 1188, 59 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1894 (11th Cir. 2001) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
In 1994, software developer Byron Darrah began distributing a free e-mail program named COOLMAIL over the Internet and allowed users to copy the software under a public license. On April 16, 1998, Technoplosion began offering an e-mail service under the mark COOLMAIL, and operated a website at “coolmail.to.” On April 24, 1998, Planetary Motion filed intent-to-use trademark applications for the mark COOLMAIL, and it launched its COOLMAIL e-mail service a few months later.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Planetary Motion sued Technoplosion, alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution, and defendant counterclaimed for similar claims. After the suit was filed, Planetary Motion purchased Darrah’s intellectual-property rights in his COOLMAIL software, including the COOLMAIL mark. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted Planetary Motion’s motion, finding that Darrah’s Internet distribution of his COOLMAIL software constituted “transport in commerce” and thus created trademark rights and priority for Planetary Motion as Darrah’s successor in interest. Finding a likelihood of confusion, the district court issued a permanent injunction and awarded Planetary Motion its attorney’s fees.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
On appeal, Technoplosion contended that Darrah’s transportation of software in commerce without sales was insufficient to create trademark rights. The appeals court disagreed, noting that “use in commerce” under the Lanham Act was not limited to profit-making activities, but to all activity that “substantially affects” interstate commerce such as Darrah’s distribution of software over the Internet. Moreover, Darrah’s distribution of free software bearing the COOLMAIL mark was widespread and the public associated the mark with Darrah.
The court rejected defendant’s contention that the mark must physically appear on the box containing the software to gain trademark rights. According to the court, “[t]here is no requirement that the public come to associate a mark with a product in any particular way . . . .” Additionally, the court noted that common-law unfair competition extended to nonprofit organizations, because they compete with other nonprofits and although Darrah lacked immediate profit-making motives, he took steps to avoid ceding his software to the public by implementing a public license with certain restrictions.
Technoplosion also disputed the district court’s finding of a likelihood of confusion, arguing that Planetary Motion’s rights should not extend beyond software. The appellate court, however, held that Planetary Motion’s e-mail service was a reasonable expansion over Darrah’s e-mail software as they both belonged to the same general field of commerce and both dealt with e-mail. Moreover, the equities did not favor Technoplosion, as its e-mail service had not been in operation for long.
Finally, the court vacated the district court’s grant of attorney’s fees to Planetary Motion because it failed to articulate a basis for awarding them and the record was devoid of any evidence of malicious or willful conduct by Technoplosion.
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