Minding Your Business

Proskauer’s perspective on developments and trends in commercial litigation.

Minnesota Files Price Gouging Suit Against Egg Producer

Although many states of emergency have expired, new lawsuits that allege price gouging continue to be filed.  On September 3, 2021, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a complaint in Minnesota state court against Sparboe Farms, Inc. alleging the company engaged in price gouging for the sale of eggs in violation of the Minnesota Governor’s executive order.

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Ownership of Inventions By Former Employers: Lessons after Bio-Rad v. ITC

The situation is familiar: an employee leaves one company to go work for another, or perhaps to found her own start-up.  She may be working on the same problems that she faced at her former workplace, and in the same technological space.

The employee’s work at her new company results in the issuance of a patent, and the new company takes the lead in the marketplace.  Based on the work done by the employee at the former employer, however, the former employer may believe that it has ownership rights in the new patent.

What rights might the former employer have?  A recent Federal Circuit decision, Bio-Rad v ITC – CAFC, sheds some light on how courts may resolve this kind of dispute—and how thorny the issues may be.  Key takeaways are summarized below.

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New York and Chicago-Style Pizza Wars: The Trademark Edition

The great pizza wars of 2021 are not what you might expect. While the courts will never be able to resolve the question of who (or where) makes the best pie, a pair of decisions from the last few weeks did resolve contentious trademark disputes in two of the great pizza destinations of the world, between Patsy’s Pizzeria and Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in New York, and between shareholders of Rosati’s in Illinois. Continue Reading

Employers Can Keep Employees on Premises Post-Shift—at a Cost

According to a recent decision, employers who want to keep employees on their premises for security checks after they have already clocked out must pay their employees to do so—at least in Pennsylvania.

In 2013, two Amazon.com employees filed a putative class action in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against their employer, certain of Amazon’s affiliates, and Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., seeking compensation under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 333.101 et seq. for time spent undergoing a mandatory security check after their shifts had already ended. The plaintiffs worked in a warehouse in Pennsylvania where they performed tasks related to fulfilling customer orders placed on Amazon. At the end of their shifts, the plaintiffs were not allowed to immediately leave the premises, as they were required to remain at the warehouse to proceed through a screening process that included walking through a metal detector. If the alarm went off, the worker would be subject to a secondary screening process where a security guard would search the worker’s bags and personal items. The plaintiffs alleged that the entire screening process could take up to twenty minutes, or even more if there were delays.  The defendants did not compensate the workers for any of this time. Continue Reading

E-Commerce Platform Facing Price Gouging Scrutiny

In the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 was synonymous with a mad dash for anti-virus home items like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and anti-bacterial wipes. Amazon emerged from the shopping frenzy as key source of these products and hosts of others. Even as many states are lifting states of emergency, businesses active during the pandemic, such as Amazon, are facing suits for conduct during the pandemic.  Continue Reading

Secret Hair Don’t Care: When NDAs Fail to Protect Trade Secrets

In a significant recent decision, the Federal Circuit reversed a $66 million judgment against L’Oreal USA, Inc. for patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation asserted by Olaplex, Inc. The case arose as a result of L’Oreal and Olaplex entering into negotiations regarding a potential acquisition, pursuant to which Olaplex shared with L’Oreal its confidential information, including asserted trade secrets. L’Oreal subsequently walked away from the deal and launched competing products of its own. Though the parties’ negotiations were governed by a non-disclosure agreement, the Federal Circuit found Olaplex failed to prove that either its asserted trade secrets were actually trade secrets, or that L’Oreal had misappropriated them. Continue Reading

Retail Marketers’ Antitrust Settlement Raises the Question: When Are Exclusive “Staggered” Contracts Anticompetitive?

If you ever noticed a coupon dispenser or colorful cardboard display while walking down the aisle of your local supermarket, there is a good chance it was put there by News Corp.’s News America Marketing (NAM) – in-store marketing’s dominant player.  News Corp.’s dominance, however, was allegedly the result of anticompetitive conduct, according to its former competitor Valassis Communications, Inc.  In a 2017 lawsuit, Valassis alleged that News Corp.’s practice of “staggering” the expiration date of exclusive contracts with retailers violated, among other things, sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and section 3 of the Clayton Act, and resulted in preventing Valassis from establishing itself as a viable competitor. After four years of litigation, the case finally went to trial last month, but the parties settled after the jury indicated it would be unable to reach a verdict.  Nevertheless, Valassis’ allegations raise an interesting question: what supporting facts and allegations might suggest staggered exclusive contracts constitute anticompetitive conduct? Continue Reading

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