Welcome to Skilled in the Art. I’m Law.com IP reporter Scott Graham, and I could really go for a veggie burger about now. In this edition I have news about a take-no-prisoners lawsuit filed by a beloved celebrity chef, and the massive exceptional case fee award from the Eastern District of Texas. Yes, I did just type those words. As always email me your thoughts and find me on Twitter.
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Celebrity Chef Trying to Roast Former Investor
First off today, a caveat: Some of my closest friends are vegans. I can attest they rarely sue tech companies nor get embroiled in brass-knuckled IP litigation.
But one example of the latter arrived Monday in the Central District of California in the form of a 129-page trademark, publicity right and unfair competition complaint by celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli. Her goal seems to be taking down the chain of fast-vegan restaurants founded three years ago in her name.
Coscarelli alleges that co-investor ESquared Hospitality expelled her from the partnership that owns the popular “by Chloe” chain, and is now degrading her brand by peddling low-quality food in often unsanitary conditions.
The complaint, signed by Robins Kaplan partner Michael Geibelson, mixes the sunniness of celebrity culture with brutal allegations. Geibelson refers to Coscarelli by first name throughout the complaint—“Chloe is an award-winning chef, television personality and best-selling culinary writer,” he notes. The complaint then goes on to allege that ESquared CEO James Haber “became infatuated with Chloe.”
It doesn’t spell out whether this infatuation was personal or professional. It states that Haber grew furious “after months of Chloe spurning Haber’s advances and refusing his proposals to license her name to mass produce food for retail sale or allow her name to be sold to international buyers.”
As for the business, Haber allegedly told Coscarelli’s daughter that ESquared’s business plan was to “milk” the Chloe name “till we can’t.” That included rapid expansion of the “by Chloe” franchise—last week the company announced a $31 million investment in 20 worldwide locations—despite allegedly “rampant food safety problems” at existing restaurants.
The company has also substituted cheaper and artificial ingredients in her original recipes, she says. “Defendants have served, and continue to serve, poor quality food in restaurants that still bear Chloe’s name, damaging Chloe’s brand and reputation,” the complaint alleges.
We reached out to a lawyer who’s represented ESquared, and didn’t hear back. But we’re pretty sure the company would refer us to the result of an arbitration between Coscarelli and ESquared last year. According to published reports, the arbitrator determined Coscarelli acted with “gross negligence” toward the franchise,including interfering with a lease and refusing to collaborate with other vegan chefs.
ED-Tex Learning to Love Fee Awards
Who says you can’t win fee awards in the Eastern District of Texas? It’s been raining Section 285 in Marshall and Tyler the last few weeks.
First, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap awarded $565,000 to Newegg against Acacia subsidiary Adjustacam LLC—albeit under duress from the Federal Circuit.
Now U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III has awarded a whopping $7.1 million to Imperium IP Holdings in its digital photography patent litigation with Samsung.
Imperium originally won a $7 million verdict that Mazzant trebled for willful infringement. He ruled the case exceptional last fall, finding among other things that Samsung attorneys gave false testimony during trial and the company continued to infringe Imperium’s patents post-judgment. Samsung argued it persuaded the jury to invalidate one of the patents Imperium was asserting.
On Thursday, Mazzant granted Imperium and its Fisch Sigler attorneys all $7.1 million in fees they were requesting, less $29,000 that the judge found to be for clerical work.
“The total is now $28,035,669, which includes the jury award, court-awarded trebled damages, prejudgment interest, taxable costs, non-taxable costs, and now attorney’s fees,” said partner Bill Sigler of Fisch Sigler’s Washington, D.C., office. “And this award will increase over time as a result of Samsung’s sales and court-imposed interest.”
It’s been a couple of years since I compiled exceptional case fee awards around the country. But as of 2016, the biggest award from any court was $7.9 million, and there had been only one published fee award from ED-Tex.
Who Got the Work?
Susman Godfrey and Durie Tangri are squaring off in the Central District of California over the future of the video doorbell. Susman represents SkyBell Technologies, which says it pioneered the concept of video doorbells, where a visitor’s arrival triggers a video on the premise owner’s smartphone. It’s asserting five patents against Ring, which it dismisses as a Johnny-come-lately to the industry. “This lawsuit is the tale of two companies in the emerging video doorbell market,” is how Skybell opens its complaint.
➤ The dispute: SkyBell says co-founder Joseph Scalisi conceived the video doorbell when he was working at a small business that couldn’t afford a receptionist. SkyBell raised $600,000 through a crowdfunding campaign and introduced what it calls “the video doorbell of choice for large-scale service providers” such as Honeywell and Comcast. It’s asserting patents that include a doorbell system that causes a camera to exit sleep mode and send a recording to a remote device, and a doorbell chime coupled with a wireless network. Ring hasn’t answered yet, but I’m betting the phrase “abstract idea” will adorn some of its pleadings. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge James Selna.
➤ The attorneys: Partner Oleg Elkhunovich and associate Meng Xi of Los Angeles; partner Joseph Grinstein of Houston; and partner Jacob Buchdahl of New York make up Susman Godfrey’s team for SkyBell. Durie Tangri’s Clement Roberts, Laura Miller and Joshua Furman represent Ring.
A Suit About Nothing
When I wrote last week about LeBron James’ threatened litigation over his barbershop interviews, I remember thinking, “This would be like Jerry Seinfeld suing someone over interviews in cars.” On Friday, I learned from my ALM colleague Colby Hamilton that there is indeed such a suit, only Seinfeld is the defendant, not the plaintiff. Check out Colby’s story here.
I’ve got a plane to catch. Thanks for reading and see you again on Friday.