Minding Your Business

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

State Infringement of Copyright Cannot Proceed in Federal Court, Fifth Circuit Says

When there is a right, there is a remedy—or so the maxim goes.  But when a state infringes upon your copyright, such a remedy may be more difficult to obtain.  Just a year ago, the Supreme Court held in Allen v. Cooper that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act did not abrogate a state’s sovereign immunity, and therefore, absent consent, sovereign immunity prevents suits for copyright infringement against a state.  Are there any exceptions to this rule?  Are there alternatives causes of action or remedies available?  That is the question plaintiffs-appellants posed in Canada Hockey, L.L.C. v. Texas A&M Univ. Athletic Dep’t.  And the answer, at least in federal court in the Fifth Circuit, is no, though the Fifth Circuit left open the possibility for recovery in state court.

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Online Marketplaces Could Expose Third-Party Sellers to Price Gouging Liability

On July 2, 2021, a group of consumers filed a putative class action in Washington District Court alleging Amazon engaged in unlawful price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic on a variety of products. The case is noteworthy because Washington does not have a specific price gouging statute. Instead, plaintiffs argue that the alleged price gouging is an “unfair or deceptive act[] or practice[] in the conduct of any trade or commerce” in violation of Washington Consumer Protection Act (“WCPA”). Commentators have speculated that one of the purposes for filing in Washington is to pursue, in a state court, nationwide damages from Amazon.

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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

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