If the court’s jury instructions aren’t correct, the verdict that follows can’t stand.
That’s the principle the Ninth Circuit applied last week in Neurovision Med. Products Inc. v. NuVasive, Inc., a trademark infringement case in which the jury awarded Neurovision $60M.
The basis for the jury’s finding was that NuVasive committed fraud in procuring its trademark registrations, that Neurovision had prior rights in its trademark, and that NuVasive willfully infringed Neurovision’s trademark rights. At issue were the parties’ competing rights to NEUROVISION as a trademark.
The Ninth Circuit found the jury’s verdict that NuVasive fraudulently obtained its trademark registrations must be vacated because the Central District of California erroneously instructed the jury as to the elements needed to prove fraud on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Such proof requires a “material misrepresentation in the affidavit on the basis of which the mark was registered.” Pony Express Courier Corp. of Am. v. Pony Exp. Delivery Serv., 872 F.2d 317, 319 (9th Cir. 1989).
The court noted: “There is no requirement that an applicant for a trademark registration disclose all prior use of a mark, contrary to the district court’s instruction. Instead, an applicant must disclose only those prior users that the applicant believes have acquired superior rights to the mark in the classification for which registration is sought. The district court erred by instructing the jury to determine only whether NuVasive omitted knowledge of [Neurovision’s] prior use of the NEUROVISION mark; the proper inquiry is whether NuVasive wilfully omitted knowledge of a superior right held by [Neurovision]. Moreover, the district court erroneously omitted from the jury instructions a key element of proving fraud on the USPTO: that a trademark applicant intend to induce reliance on a misrepresentation.”
The Ninth Circuit also found the district court erred in instructing the jury about what was required to challenge an incontestable trademark.
“The judgment below must be vacated because the district court instructed the jury to answer only whether [Neurovision] ‘establish[ed] trademark rights in the mark ‘NEUROVISION’ through prior use of the mark in commerce,’ and failed to require that the jury determine both the geographic scope of [Neurovision’s] rights and whether [Neurovision] maintained continuous use of the mark following the acquisition of any state law rights in the mark.”
Because it found the district court had “ignored our precedent, persistently cut off or excluded relevant testimony, and repeatedly instructed the jury incorrectly,” the Ninth Circuit took the unusual position of requiring that the case be reassigned to a different judge on remand.
The case cite is Neurovision Med. Products Inc. v. NuVasive, Inc., No. 11-55120, 2012 WL 3900682 (9th Cir. Sept. 10, 2012).