bankruptcy Books Chief Justice John Roberts Courts Danielle Spinelli Douglas Halward-Driemeier First Circuit Guest Contributors IP News IPWatchdog Articles Justice Elena Kagan Justice Neil Gorsuch Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Justice Sonia Sotomayor Justice Steven Breyer Legislation licensee Licensing licensor Litigation Lubrizol Enters. Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology SCOTUS Trademark trademarks U.S. Bankruptcy Code US Supreme Court

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in Mission Product Holdings

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“Justices Breyer and Kagan pressed on each potential non-trademark analogies for the proposition that the lessor of private property can reclaim it from a lessee upon lessor’s personal breach and the existence of any non-bankruptcy case regulation help for the proposition that a licensor breach leads to the licensee being required to cease utilizing a trademark.”

On Wednesday, February 20, the U.S. Supreme Courtroom heard oral arguments in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC, the place the Courtroom was requested to deal with probably the most necessary points on the intersection of trademark regulation and chapter regulation:  whether or not a debtor-licensor’s rejection of a trademark license terminates the rights of the licensee to make use of that trademark. Taking critically the language of the query introduced, and usually acknowledging that 11 U.S.C. § 365(g) offers that rejection constitutes a “breach” of the contract, the justices targeted on the cures for breach outdoors of chapter regulation and whether or not, as a result of logos (and high quality management points) are concerned, deviation from abnormal, contract regulation rules is warranted. Each the advocates and the justices returned as to if analogies, together with with respect to breaches of condominium and photocopier leases, are apposite. The query of whether or not the case was moot additionally acquired some consideration, although it appears unlikely that the case will probably be dismissed on that floor.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Steven Breyer, and Elena Kagan have been probably the most vigorous questioners, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch (relating to mootness) additionally collaborating. Justices Brett Kavanagh and Clarence Thomas didn’t take part within the questioning.

Petitioner: “Rejection” Leads to Prepetition Declare for Damages, Not Termination

Danielle Spinelli, Associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, argued for the petitioner, Mission Product Holdings. She asserted that the “plain textual content” of Part 365 supplies that rejection constitutes a breach giving rise to a pre-petition declare for damages and repeatedly returned to the theme that, outdoors chapter, a licensor’s “breach” wouldn’t give it the best to terminate the licensee’s rights underneath a contract.

Justice Alito harassed that rejection signifies that a debtor has no obligation to carry out future duties—some extent on which not one of the justices appeared to disagree—however requested whether or not non-performance of high quality management would imperil the trademark. All through the argument, the justices targeted on high quality management, together with whether or not the licensor’s obligations to take care of high quality have been based mostly on underlying regulation or the license settlement and whether or not the licensee would need (or have the opportunity) to take care of high quality management for its personal sake.

Justice Sotomayor appeared skeptical of Spinelli’s argument, posturing that rejection ought to relieve the licensor of high quality management obligations, because the licensor was withdrawing its approval to make use of the trademark.

Justice Kagan, who targeted on underlying non-bankruptcy regulation, requested each the petitioner and respondent for the sources of the precept that a breaching licensor can’t terminate an settlement. Spinelli responded that the license itself can be a “full protection” to an motion by licensor to terminate. Justice Kagan additionally questioned whether or not state regulation contract rules should differ resulting from trademark high quality management necessities, to which Spinelli decisively responded “no.”

Justice Sotomayor was troubled by the likelihood that the default rule of Part 365 may give kind of rights to trademark house owners than Part 365(n) provides to different non-trademark IP rights house owners. Spinelli responded by stating that Congress, in enacting Part 365(n), clearly reversed Lubrizol Enters., Inc. v. Richmond Metallic Finishers, Inc., 756 F.second 1043 (4th Cir. 1985), which held that rejection of an executory license settlement by a debtor-licensor terminates the license. A number of the justices (notably Justice Sotomayor) have been skeptical that the precept in Lubrizol had been decisively and broadly rejected by Congress. Justice Ginsburg asserted that Congress had not taken any place as as to if Lubrizol utilized within the trademark context. Justice Kagan thought that Congress had clearly said that high quality management obligations are a key distinction between logos and different types of mental property. Spinelli responded by explaining why Part 365(n) didn’t embrace logos—she stated that, with respect to the problems raised in Lubrizol, Congress was coping with an “emergency” referring to patents—a topic to which Zachary Tripp, arguing for the USA, later returned.

Some justices have been additionally desirous about what occurs when high quality management just isn’t maintained—whether or not the licensee can keep high quality management and whether or not the licensee (and others) can use a trademark that has been deserted on account of a scarcity of high quality management. Chief Justice Roberts, for instance, requested a few licensee’s rights with respect to high quality management if the licensor is “not fulfilling its obligation,” with Spinelli responding that licensees even have an curiosity in sustaining high quality management.

United States:  First Circuit is “Flawed”

Tripp’s simple argument was that the First Circuit—from which the Mission Product case was appealed to the Supreme Courtroom—precedent is damaging and “undermines” the “stability and worth of trademark licenses.” Its rule would put a franchisee to “an extortionate selection between paying a better royalty cost or shutting down their enterprise and firing all their staff.”

Justice Breyer struggled with the actual property analogy advised by the federal government’s temporary, which proposed that a tenant’s proper beneath an house lease could also be separable from the owner’s “maintenance” obligations. Perhaps, there usually are not two separable rights, e.g., “It’s like a home that might collapse until you stick with it; perhaps like an igloo that you simply promised to air situation.” Right here, the “maintenance enterprise”—i.e., high quality management—is inseparable from the license itself. Tripp responded that (in contrast to an igloo) licensees can nonetheless use the trademark even when the licensor not performs high quality management.

Lastly, Tripp said that the purpose of Part 365(n) was to “overwhelmingly overrule” Lubrizol and that Congress at no level endorsed the precept in that case. He then backtracked considerably, within the face of questioning from Justice Sotomayor, stating that Part 365(n) “doesn’t put a thumb on the size come what may.” Relatively, the overall rule of Part 365(g)—which doesn’t present a “claw again”—ought to apply. Justice Sotomayor additionally had points with Tripp’s argument that Part 365(n) isn’t an exception to the rule, focusing each on what it’d imply to “reject” a contract beneath contract regulation, and that respondent’s studying of rejection (to use rejection to a whole contract) may be right.

Respondent: Trademark Licensee is Like Any Different Creditor

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a Companion at Ropes & Grey LLC, representing the respondent, Tempnology, LLC, was referred to as upon to deal with the analogies to leasing a photocopier to somebody after which failing to take care of it (which he stated was comparable in that such a lease would require the lessee to return the copier to the property within the case of chapter) or an actual property lease (which he stated was not related as a result of there are particular statutory exceptions for actual property), in addition to the impact of respondent’s rule on a franchisee who has spent, and should lose, tens of millions of dollars (which he argued was not distinguishable from some other collectors of a bankrupt property which will have vital losses). The main target of his argument was that a licensee, confronted with rejection, has solely a prepetition declare for breach of contract, which means that it has the suitable to hunt damages.

Hallward-Driemeier acknowledged, nevertheless, that outdoors chapter solely the non-breaching social gathering has the suitable to terminate or search to implement the contract. He argued that the “nature of the trademark is that it’s the trademark proprietor’s popularity” and logos have a “distinctive character” based mostly on the “rule of unitary possession” and that analogies to different types of property are, subsequently, inappropriate. Justice Alito expressed skepticism that there was a particular rule for logos outdoors of chapter that may be “predicated on the licensor’s failure to train the standard management.” Justice Sotomayor was involved that the impact of respondent’s proposed rule might by no means be restricted to logos. Justices Breyer and Kagan continued to press on each potential non-trademark analogies for the proposition that the lessor of private property can reclaim it from a lessee upon lessor’s personal breach and the existence of any non-bankruptcy case regulation help for the proposition that a licensor breach leads to the licensee being required to cease utilizing a trademark.

Responding to Hallward-Driemeier’s argument that Part 365 has exceptions to a common rule that don’t embrace trademark licensees, Justice Kagan stated, “truthfully,” Part 365(g) says that rejection constitutes a breach, for which one then seems to non-bankruptcy regulation. Hallward-Driemeier responded that rejection is a pre-petition breach, the impact of which is specified by Part 502(g)(1) and associated provisions of the “very convoluted” Chapter Code. Justice Kagan’s assertion that “we will perceive it” provoked laughter.

Justice Ginsburg requested Hallward-Driemeier to elucidate why all of the scholarly materials disagreed with him. Hallward-Driemeier stated that “it’s not the uniform view,” pointing to an article that states that rejection means use is terminated. He additionally famous that INTA and different amici have gone to Congress to ask for an exception for trademark licenses just like Part 365(n), that Congress has “refused to take action,” and that these events at the moment are asking the Courtroom to provide them what they might not get from Congress.

No Proper to Take Again Rights and Resell

Spinelli made two factors in her rebuttal. First, that the property can’t take again rights within the license and resell them to anyone else simply to distribute the sale proceeds to different collectors. Second, that rejection doesn’t permit a claw again of pursuits conveyed pre-bankruptcy, as rejection isn’t avoidance, which is ruled by separate Chapter Code provisions.

In response to a query from Justice Sotomayor as to the character of the damages petitioner incurred, and an obvious concern by Justice Sotomayor that these damages can be topic to precedence, Spinelli responded that the petitioner has an administrative declare arising from deprivation of the correct to make use of the trademark post-rejection. Justice Sotomayor appeared troubled that that might give petitioner extra rights than Part 365(n) provides different mental property rights proprietor. Lastly, in response to a query from Justice Breyer concerning the impact of a lessor not sustaining high quality management, Spinelli stated that the cessation of high quality management doesn’t “dissolve the license” and that, in or outdoors of chapter, a trademark lessor can’t switch the trademark license: the “license belongs to the licensee.”

Gorsuch:  Is the Case Moot?

Justice Neil Gorsuch requested Spinelli to deal with whether or not the case is moot. As unique distribution isn’t at challenge, how was petitioner injured (petitioner had already stopped ordering any items) and what damages may it have? Spinelli responded that petitioner was wrongly prevented from utilizing the trademark on items post-rejection and, previous to chapter, respondent had refused to fill petitioner’s buy orders.

Then, as soon as Tripp stood up, Justice Gorsuch instantly requested him about mootness and the supply of petitioners’ damages. He responded that the respondent’s argument on mootness “show[s] approach an excessive amount of” as a result of, if proper, it will imply that no damages would ever be out there to a counterparty and that would go away it with no cures in any respect. Justice Sotomayor joined in, asking Tripp why the case is just not moot if petitioner shouldn’t be acquiring items. He responded that petitioner nonetheless has cash claims and that it might have “sourced the products from some other place.”

Hallward-Driemeier additionally started his argument by asserting that the case is in reality moot as a result of the non-exclusive license has expired, any dispute beneath that license is moot, and petitioner didn’t use the trademark through the post-rejection interval. Justice Gorsuch largely concluded this line of questioning by suggesting that the chapter courtroom’s declaratory ruling with respect to the which means of rejection created uncertainty for the petitioner that is perhaps “sufficient” to keep away from mootness as a result of it was “an acorn of damage for Article III functions.”


Jasmine Ball

Jasmine Ball

is a company associate and member of Debevoise & Plimpton’s Enterprise Restructuring & Exercises Group. Ms. Ball frequently represents debtors, buyers, collectors and different events in distressed mergers & acquisitions, exercises, debt and fairness financing and refinancing, complicated restructurings and Chapter 11 chapter proceedings. Ms. Ball has been acknowledged by quite a few US and worldwide authorized publications and is an writer of, and contributes to, quite a few publications on chapter and restructuring subjects. Ms. Ball is a daily speaker on restructuring subjects and has introduced on the Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation, Airline Economics’ Aviation and Finance Leasing Faculty, the American Chapter Institute, the American Bar Affiliation, the Practising Regulation Institute, the American School of Funding Counsel, the Affiliation of the Bar of the Metropolis of New York and the Worldwide Ladies’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation, amongst others.

For Extra info or to contact Jasmine, please go to her Agency Profile Web page.

Jasmine Ball

Jeffrey Cunard

, managing companion of Debevoise & Plimpton’s Washington, D.C. workplace, chairs the agency’s company mental property and knowledge know-how apply. His apply additionally encompasses copyright and different mental property litigation issues, notably these involving new applied sciences, in addition to media and communications regulation. He has broad expertise in company transactions, together with mergers and acquisitions, licenses, joint ventures and outsourcing preparations. As well as, he leads the agency’s company knowledge safety and cybersecurity practices. Mr. Cunard is the writer of, and contributes to, books and articles on communications and mental property regulation, and he speaks extensively on each topics.

For Extra info or to contact Jeffrey, please go to his Agency Profile Web page.

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