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Indiana doesn’t have jurisdiction in IP suit, rules 7th Circuit

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a District judge to dismiss a case filed by a company with California ties against another California company alleging various IP violations. The judges found Indiana does not have personal jurisdiction over the matter based on emails the allegedly offending company sent.

Advanced Tactical, which manufactures and sells PepperBall branded items, filed its lawsuit against Real Action Paintball Inc. in the Northern District of Indiana, alleging violations of the Lanham Act, common law trademark infringement and unfair competition, trade dress infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. The lawsuit stems from an email Real Action sent out in 2012 and a message on its website that announced it had acquired the machinery, recipes and materials once used by PepperBall Technologies Inc. But Advanced Tactical had acquired PepperBall Technologies after the business went into foreclosure.

Advanced Tactical claims to have a headquarters in Indiana, but that is unclear, according to the court record. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the District judge concluded the court had personal jurisdiction and that Advanced Tactical was entitled to a preliminary injunction.

The District Court found the necessary minimum contacts based on the following: Real Action fulfilled several orders of the allegedly infringing projectiles for purchasers in Indiana; it knew Advanced Tactical was an Indiana company and could foresee that the misleading emails and sales would harm Advanced Tactical in Indiana; it sent at least two misleading email blasts to a list that included Indiana residents; it had an interactive website available to residents of Indiana; and it put customers on their email list when they made a purchase, thereby giving the company some economic advantage.

But in Advanced Tactical Ordinance Systems Inc. v. Real Action Paintball Inc. and K.T. Tran, 13-3005,  the 7th Circuit found none of these meets the standards the Supreme Court of the United States has set governing specific jurisdiction.

“Specific jurisdiction must rest on the litigation-specific conduct of the defendant in the proposed forum state. The only sales that would be relevant are those that were related to Real Action’s allegedly unlawful activity. Advanced Technical – which has the burden of proof here – has not provided evidence of such sales,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote.

“To hold otherwise would mean that a plaintiff could bring suit in literally any state where the defendant shipped at least one item,” she continued.

The act that Real Action maintains an email list to allow it to shower past customers and subscribers with company-related emails doesn’t show a relation between the company and Indiana, the 7th Circuit ruled. “The connection between the place where an email is opened and a lawsuit is entirely fortuitous.”

The judges also found the interactivity of a website is a poor proxy for adequate in-state contacts. The case is remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.
 

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