Last month federal district judge Claude Hilton dismissed an antitrust suit filed against rival makers of table saws by SawStop, a company that has patented a table saw with innovative safety features. “Hilton’s ruling, while a blow to SawStop, has no legal bearing on the company’s efforts to get the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require the use of their technology on most table saws sold in the U.S.” Trial lawyers at Boies Schiller and elsewhere have also filed numerous product liability suits against makers of conventional saws; many saw users prefer to go on buying conventional saws, which are much less expensive, in preference to using the SawStop system [David Frane, Tools of the Trade, background; earlier]
Federal false-advertising law allows competitors (not just consumers claiming loss) to sue companies over allegedly false or unsubstantiated ad claims. Long-established result that will surprise only newcomers: big guys use the law to beat up little guys, as well as each other. “In March, a Supreme Court ruling widened the range of businesses that can sue other companies for false advertising under the federal Lanham Act, by allowing businesses that aren’t direct competitors to pursue claims.” [WSJ via Lexology]
“I’m sure you realize the asymmetry in the financial resources of our respective companies when you say: ‘We will both just end up paying a lot of lawyers a lot of money.'” [TheVerge.com]
At Cato at Liberty, I find that uncannily reminiscent of a famous Bastiat parody (& IEA, Tim Worstall).
More from Coyote: “left unsaid is how they would jack up their prices when at least two other companies (Bing, Mapquest) also provide mapping services online for free.” But note that the French case arose not from Google’s furnishing of its free map service to individual end customers, but from its furnishing of its map API to businesses that typically adapt it for use in their own sites; as commenters at BoingBoing and Reddit as well as news reports point out, Google has indeed introduced fees for its largest business users of this type (which has caused some of them to adapt by switching from Google’s API to OpenStreetMap, a free wiki-based map service).
Public-spirited litigants Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C & H Sugar Company, Inc., have filed a lawsuit charging corn refiners with false advertising in their recent campaign to relabel high-fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar.” “The sugar producers seek an injunction to end the advertising campaign and also seek damages, including compensation for corrective advertising.” [PR Newswire]
“It doesn’t matter whether you have a case or not.” Reflections on legal friction between competing websites that assist in bringing reporters together with sources [Alain Raynaud, FairSoftware, via Pete Warden]
The New York Times doesn’t have statistics, but its reporter thinks Lanham Act litigation (filed by companies against their competitors over allegedly misleading advertising) is on the rise these days.
“The American Booksellers Association loves people who buy books. It loves them so much that it wants to protect them from wicked retailers who sell popular titles at affordable prices.” [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe] More: Mark Perry.
Related: antitrust laws mostly “used today by one group of competitors to try to hamstring another competitor in their business” [Coyote on IBM mainframe investigation]
Ride the Ducks says it has been inviting customers to toot on kazoos for a decade as part of its water-land tours in various cities. Now it is suing competitor Bay Quackers, which pioneered the duck tour concept in San Francisco (and was more recently joined there as a competitor by Ride the Ducks) for infringing its “sound mark”, an “auditory equivalent of a trademark”. [New York Times] [Corrected 2:30 p.m. after reader Kim S. pointed out that I hadn't correctly conveyed the details of which company operated where and when.]
I’ve previously criticized the unrealistic notions judges have of the expense of litigation. (For example: Budget Rent A Car (7th Cir. 2005).) As I said, “[T]he mistake of thinking that legal practice is so frictionless is what encourages so many judges to deny motions to dismiss and deny motions for summary judgment and fail to restrain discovery.” The Spalding Labs v. ARBICO case, No. CV 06-1157 ODW (SHx), 2008 WL 2227501 (C.D. Cal., May 29, 2008) (via Tushnet) provides another example.
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Antitrust law trips up pillar-of-counterculture-journalism Village Voice Media, cont’d: “San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller raised the amount the Weekly [SF Weekly] must pay in damages to the Bay Guardian — from $6.3 million to $15.9 million — for undercutting its rival with below-cost ads.” (Meredith May, “Judge raises damages in case against SF Weekly”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 21; earlier; sample SF Weekly business-bashing piece, channeling plaintiff’s lawyers’ contentions in Parmalat case). “Predatory pricing — selling ads below cost with the goal of putting your competition out of business — is typically something alt weeklies cover, not something they get caught and fined for.” (Josh Feit, TheStranger.com (which competes with VVM’s Seattle Weekly), Mar. 5).
U. S District Court Judge Robert Matsch recently got so infuriated by the conduct of McDermott, Will and Emery attorneys Terrance McMahon and Vera Elson that he overturned a jury’s $51 million verdict, then ordered the lawyers to pay the fees and costs of the opposing lawyers, a sum that could total several million dollars. (Denver Post, Feb. 25)
From the decision (Medtronic Navigation, Inc. v. BrainLAB Medizinische, 2008 WL 410413):
In essence, the response from the plaintiff and MWE, through new counsel, is that the Court had the obligation to stop any trial conduct that stepped over the line of zealous advocacy. In short, they argue that they should not be held responsible for what they were able to get away with during the trial presentation. The adamant denial that there was any abuse of advocacy in this case is in disregard of what this Court has already concluded and displays the same arrogance that has colored this case almost from its inception. Throughout these proceedings Medtronic and the MWE lawyers have demonstrated that when they are faced with adverse court rulings, they proceed undeterred, with only superficial observance of the court’s determinations. Such conduct supports the conclusion that after the Markman rulings, Medtronic’s primary objective in pursuing this litigation was to put economic pressure on its competitor in the market.
Medtronic’s counsel proceeded cavalierly, with reckless indifference to the merits of Medtronic’s infringement claims. The continued prosecution of a claim after its lack of merit has become apparent warrants sanctions under § 1927. At trial, MWE’s conduct was in disregard for the duty of candor, reflecting an attitude of “what can I get away with?” Throughout the trial, the MWE lawyers artfully avoided the limitations of the patent claims and created an illusion of infringement. They did so with full awareness that their case was without merit.