For many New Jersey businesses, protecting their intellectual property can be an important part of keeping their brands active and growing. There are a number of different venues where companies can take legal action against infringement of their trademarks, patents and copyrights. However, one question that may arise is whether a decision in one venue may prevent the issues from being raised again in a different court. According to one federal appeals court's decision, U.S. International Trade Commission rulings on trademark infringement do not necessarily preclude litigating the issue again in federal district court.
The ruling came in a case between two companies selling portable people-moving devices, Segway and Swagway. Segway filed a complaint with the ITC, an independent federal agency that investigates trade matters and deals with imported products that may infringe on intellectual properties registered in the United States. It accused Swagway of violating its patents and trademarks. While Swagway aimed to end the complaint by entering a consent order, Segway refused due to concern about future litigation of the underlying claims. In the case, the ITC ruled that Swagway did infringe Segway trademarks but not its patents.
When Swagway appealed the decision, the federal appeals court said that the denial of the consent order did not determine the impact of future litigation on the issue. Despite Swagway's belief, the appeals court said that neither an ITC ruling or a consent order would determine the outcome of a district court case. It said that the ITC's decisions were not entitled to have that effect.
Given that disputes over trademark infringement may take place in multiple venues and courts, business owners may find it important to understand the effects of each type of case. An intellectual property lawyer can help businesses to protect their ideas and brands in a variety of situations.