851 F.3d 440 (5th Cir. 2017), 16-20046, Streamline Production Systems, Inc. v. Streamline Manufacturing, Inc.

Docket Nº:16-20046
Citation:851 F.3d 440
Opinion Judge:KING, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:STREAMLINE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS, INC., Plaintiff - Appellee v. STREAMLINE MANUFACTURING, INC., Defendant - Appellant
Attorney:For STREAMLINE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS, INCORPORATED, Plaintiff - Appellee: Terry Blaine Joseph, Esq., General Attorney, Holly H. Barnes, David Martin Lodholz, Esq., Trial Attorney, Matthews, Lawson, McCutcheon & Joseph, P.L.L.C., Houston, TX. For STREAMLINE MANUFACTURING, INCORPORATED, Defendant - Ap...
Judge Panel:Before STEWART, Chief Judge, and KING and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 16, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
SUMMARY

Streamline Production filed a trademark infringement suit against Streamline Manufacturing, seeking damages under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and Texas common law. The parties stipulated to an injunction and a jury returned a verdict finding that Streamline Manufacturing infringed on Streamline Production's valid trademark in its name and awarded damages for lost royalties, unjust... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 440

851 F.3d 440 (5th Cir. 2017)

STREAMLINE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS, INC., Plaintiff - Appellee

v.

STREAMLINE MANUFACTURING, INC., Defendant - Appellant

No. 16-20046

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 16, 2017

         As Revised, April 11, 2017.

Page 441

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 442

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 443

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 444

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 445

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

         For STREAMLINE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS, INCORPORATED, Plaintiff - Appellee: Terry Blaine Joseph, Esq., General Attorney, Holly H. Barnes, David Martin Lodholz, Esq., Trial Attorney, Matthews, Lawson, McCutcheon & Joseph, P.L.L.C., Houston, TX.

         For STREAMLINE MANUFACTURING, INCORPORATED, Defendant - Appellant: Steven Jon Knight, Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry, Houston, TX; Robert Harris Bateman, Bateman Pugh Chambers, P.L.L.C., Houston, TX.

         Before STEWART, Chief Judge, and KING and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

Page 446

          KING, Circuit Judge:

         Streamline Production Systems, Inc. filed this trademark infringement suit against Streamline Manufacturing, Inc. seeking damages under the Lanham Act and Texas common law. After stipulating to an injunction, the parties proceeded to a jury trial on the issues of infringement and damages. The jury returned a verdict finding that Streamline Manufacturing, Inc. infringed on Streamline Production Systems, Inc.'s valid trademark in its name and awarded damages for lost royalties, unjust enrichment, and exemplary damages, each in the sum of $230,000, for a total award of $690,000. The district court denied Streamline Manufacturing Inc.'s motion for judgment as a matter of law, as well as its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, for a new trial. Finding insufficient evidence to support the damages awards, we AFFIRM the jury's finding of trademark infringement but VACATE the damages awards.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff--Appellee Streamline Production Systems, Inc. (SPSI) was established

Page 447

in 1993 by Michael Renick in Beaumont, Texas. SPSI initially began as an oilfield services company. In 1997, SPSI began custom fabricating pressure vessels, and today, it produces a range of custom fabricated natural gas processing equipment, such as gas separators, heat exchangers, re-boilers, and pressure vessels, and sells that equipment to customers nationwide, in addition to continuing to provide oilfield services and repair. Later on, Renick founded three other companies that all use " Streamline" in their names and share staff with and operate in the same region as SPSI but do not manufacture custom fabricated natural gas processing equipment. SPSI's 2013 sales exceeded $27 million. According to Renick, his company has been successful over the years because it is " well-known in the oil field."

         SPSI's logo consists of the word " Streamline" written on a ring encircling the image of a piece of natural gas production equipment. SPSI includes this logo, along with its phone number, on a metal placard that it attaches to each piece of equipment it produces. SPSI also uses this logo for its advertising, which includes printed brochures, branded merchandise, branded racecars, and a website. SPSI's current website is streamlinetexas.com. The website's color scheme is blue and white. The banner at the top of the website depicts " Streamline Production Systems" written in white lettering and integrated with a piece of natural gas production equipment against a blue background. Prior to operating its website at this URL, SPSI operated a website at the URL streamlinetx.com, which, according to SPSI's business manager, was " very generic" and was not relied upon for business.

         Defendant--Appellant Streamline Manufacturing, Inc. (SMI) was founded in 2009 in Houston by Luis Morales and Bob Tulio. SMI also fabricates natural gas processing equipment, including pressure vessels, boilers, heat exchangers, skids, and separators, and sells them to customers nationwide. But unlike SPSI, it does not do any oil field servicing or repair work. SMI also attaches a placard to each piece of equipment it produces identifying SMI as the manufacturer, but unlike SPSI's placard, it does not include SMI's phone number. Both Morales and Tulio worked at another oil and gas equipment manufacturing company, RCH Industries, before they founded SMI. Initially, all of SMI's business came from customers with whom Morales and Tulio had preexisting relationships through their prior work at RCH Industries, and those customers have continued to comprise the majority of SMI's business. Some of these customers are equipment resellers who sell SMI's equipment to end-market users. Relying on this customer base, SMI reached over $1 million in sales in its first full year of business, and between 2009 and 2014, it had over $20 million in total sales.

         According to Morales and Tulio, they selected the name " Streamline Manufacturing, Inc." for their new company after conferring with family members and " bouncing names around," with the goal of " trying to find something short" and " not[] confusing." They sought a name with a three letter acronym because that was how their previous company (RCH) was referred to and because they thought such a concise name " denote[d] efficiency." They brainstormed several possible names that they " pull[ed] . . . out of the air," one of which was " Streamline Manufacturing, Inc." They provided these possible names to their lawyer so he could check the availability of the names with the Texas Secretary of State, and SMI showed as available, so it was chosen. In choosing this name, Morales and Tulio professed to be entirely unaware of SPSI's name, location, degree of success, customers, and even its mere

Page 448

existence; nor did they know Renick. After choosing SMI as a name, Morales sought to establish a website. He used a commercial website to search available domain names, and the search indicated that his first choice for a domain name, SMI.com, was not available. Morales then searched for " Streamline," and streamline.com was also not available, but the search provided a drop down box indicating several other available variations. Morales picked the shortest available variation shown in the drop down box, streamlinetx.com, as SMI's website domain name. This was the same domain name previously used by SPSI. SMI's website was predominantly blue and white in color scheme, and its homepage displayed SMI's logo: " SMI" in blue font against a background of a photo of natural gas equipment overlaid against an outline of the state of Texas. Besides this website, SMI did not engage in any advertising or marketing efforts and did not even have a sign outside its office.

         Around 2011, SPSI began to learn of SMI's existence. First, it attempted to update its website but learned that its registration had lapsed and that SMI had taken over the domain. It also began to encounter customers and vendors who confused SPSI and SMI. In 2012, Renick learned that one of SPSI's oil field services customers, Century Exploration, had a piece of equipment manufactured by SMI that it mistakenly believed it had purchased from SPSI. Another customer, Union Services, mistakenly sent a $130 check intended for SPSI to SMI instead. Renick also received a call from a purchasing agent at Pioneer Resources, a natural gas company, who said he had a pressure vessel with a " Streamline" placard on it but no phone number and he was interested in purchasing more. It became clear that the purchasing agent was an SMI customer, had an SMI-manufactured vessel, and had erroneously called SPSI. According to Renick, SPSI's vendors also occasionally erroneously shipped equipment to SMI's offices. And two vendors refused to sell equipment and materials to SPSI because they confused it with SMI, who had unpaid bills. Despite these instances of confusion, SPSI did not contact SMI.

         At the same time SPSI was learning of SMI's existence, SMI was also learning of SPSI. In 2011, a representative from the Texas Secretary of State called SMI seeking to collect franchise taxes owed by SPSI. In addition, a third-party insurance inspector mentioned to Morales that he knew of another company called " Streamline." SMI also received at least one phone call intended for SPSI. And in 2013, an employee at one of SMI's customers, Mustang, told Morales that there was another business called " Streamline" in Texas but it is not clear that he mentioned what type of work it did. SMI did not investigate SPSI after any of these instances of confusion. Tulio explained that at first he thought SPSI was a movie production business due to the presence of " production" in its name. He also justified his lack of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP