Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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The Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, requires the FCC to advance universal service. The FCC's Universal Service Fund (USF), administered by USAC, allows carriers that serve high-cost areas to recover reasonable costs “for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and services.” High-cost area carriers may also receive support from the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) pool.SIC was designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier to provide service to the Hawaiian homelands and began receiving high-cost support funds and participating in the NECA pool. SIC subsequently leased a "massive and expensive" cable from a related entity. In 2010, the FCC allowed 50 percent of SIC’s lease expenses. In 2016, the FCC determined that projected growth never materialized and limited SIC to $1.9 million per year from the NECA pool. The D.C. Circuit denied an appeal.In 2011, the FCC put a $250 per-line, per-month cap on USF support; SIC had received $14,000 per line per year. In 2015, SIC's manager was convicted of tax crimes; the company had paid $4,063,294.39 of his personal expenses, which he improperly designated as business expenses. The FCC suspended SIC's ‘high-cost funding. An audit revealed that SIC improperly received millions of dollars of USF funds. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission refused to certify SIC. The D.C. Circuit declined to order reinstatement of USF support and upheld a 2016 FCC order requiring repayment of $27,270,390.SIC filed suit in the Claims Court, alleging that the reductions in SIC’s subsidies resulted in a taking of property without just compensation, seeking $200 million in damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The court’s Tucker Act jurisdiction is preempted by the Communication Act's comprehensive remedial scheme. SIC’s claims seek review of FCC decisions, which are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of appeals. View "Sandwich Isles Communications, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Myco believed its competitor, BlephEx, made false and misleading statements about Myco’s product and whether it infringed BlephEx’s patent, entitled “Method and Device for Treating an Ocular Disorder.” The district court preliminarily enjoined BlephEx from making allegations of patent infringement and from threatening litigation against Myco’s potential customers.The Federal Circuit reversed. Federal law requires a showing of bad faith before a patentee can be enjoined from communicating his patent rights. A showing of “bad faith” must be supported by a finding that the claims asserted were objectively baseless. There was no adequate basis to conclude that allegations of patent infringement would be false or misleading. Even if the injunction were narrowly tailored to allegations of infringement and threats of litigation against Myco’s potential customers, the “medical practitioner immunity” provision of 35 U.S.C. 287(c) does not blanketly preclude a patent owner from stating that a medical practitioner’s performance of a medical activity infringes a patent. Myco asked the court to assume, without any supporting evidence, that a doctor would have interpreted general statements as an accusation of patent infringement and a threat of litigation against the doctor herself. View "Myco Industries, Inc. v. Blephex, LLC" on Justia Law

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Customedia’s patents, which share a specification, disclose comprehensive data management and processing systems that comprise a remote AccountTransaction Server (ATS) and a local host Data Case Management System and Audio/Video Processor Recorderplayer (VPR/DMS), e.g., a cable set-top box. Broadcasters and other content providers transmit advertising data via the ATS to a local VPR/DMS. That data be selectively recorded in programmable storage sections in the VPR/DMS according to a user’s preferences. These storage sections may be “reserved, rented, leased or purchased from end user[s], content providers, broadcasters, cable/satellite distributor, or other data communications companies administering the data products and services.” On Dish Network’s petition for review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found various claims ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101 and other claims unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 102. The Federal Circuit affirmed the ineligibility finding, applying the Supreme Court’s “Alice” holding that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible.” The claimed invention is at most an improvement to the abstract concept of targeted advertising wherein computers are merely used as a tool; the invocation of already-available computers that are not themselves plausibly asserted to be an advance amounts to a recitation of what is well-understood, routine, and conventional. View "Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp." on Justia Law

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Brunetti owns the clothing brand “fuct.” In 2011, individuals filed an intent-to-use application for the mark FUCT for items of apparel. The applicants assigned the application to Brunetti, who amended it to allege use of the mark. The examining attorney refused to register the mark under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), finding it comprised immoral or scandalous matter because FUCT is the past tense of “fuck,” a vulgar word, and is therefore scandalous. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed. While substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings and it did not err concluding the mark comprises immoral or scandalous matter, section 2(a)’s bar on registering immoral or scandalous marks is an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The bar is a content-based restriction on speech; trademark registration is not a government subsidy program that could justify such a bar. Nor is trademark registration a “limited public forum,” in which the government can more freely restrict speech. The bar survives neither strict nor intermediate scrutiny. Even if the government had a substantial interest in protecting the public from scandalous or immoral marks, the regulation does not directly advance that interest because section 2(a) does not directly prevent applicants from using their marks. View "In re: Brunetti" on Justia Law