This posting was written by John W. Arden.
An Internet and telephone-based advertising service for skydiving customers (Skyride) was properly held liable for trademark infringement, cybersquatting, and false advertising against a skydiving center (Skydive Arizona, Inc.), justifying a total award of $6.6 million, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The court of appeals upheld jury awards of $2.5 million in actual damages for trademark infringement, $2.5 million in disgorged profits from trademark infringement, $600,000 for cybersquatting, and $1 million in actual damages for false advertising. It overturned the district court’s doubling of actual damages.
Skydive Arizona, Inc. has operated under the SKYDIVE ARIZONA mark sine 1986, becoming one of the most well known skydiving centers in the world. It hosts between more than 145,000 skydives per year, furnishing airplanes and personnel for skydiving events in 30 states outside Arizona. The company has been featured in television programs and advertises on the Internet and in Yellow Pages, magazines, and newspapers.
Skyride essentially acts as a third-party advertising and booking service for skydiving centers, providing national telephone and Internet promotional services to skydiving “drop zones” around the U.S. Customers pay Skyride for certificates that can be redeemed at various drop zones around the country. Upon redemption, Skyride must pay the skydiving facility used by the customer.
Skyride owned and operated numerous websites, describing skydiving opportunities in multiple locations without reference to specific drop zones, in addition to websites referencing Arizona, including PhoenixSkydiving, ScottsdaleSkydiving, TucsonSkydiving, skydivearizona.net, skydivingarizona.com, and skydivingarizona.com.
Skydive Arizona brought an action against Skyride, asserting claims of (1) false designation of origin and unfair competition under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act; (2) trademark infringement, and (3) cybersquatting. Skydive Arizona alleged that Skyride misrepresented ownership in skydiving facilities in Arizona in order to attract customers and sold skydiving certificates by trading on Skydive Arizona’s goodwill and misleading customers into believing that Skydive Arizona would accept its certificates.
The federal district court in Phoenix entered summary judgment in favor of Skydive Arizona for false advertising. A jury subsequently found in favor of Skydive Arizona on the remaining claims, awarding the $6.6 million in damages. The district court doubled the actual damages for false advertising and trademark infringement, resulting in $5 million for trademark infringement and $2 million for false advertising.
On appeal, Skyride challenged the summary judgment ruling on the false advertising claim, contending that the evidence on materiality was ambiguous. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding that a declaration of consumer James Flynn constituted direct evidence that Skyride’s statements were likely to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Flynn stated that he purchased Skyride certificates based on false representations that he could redeem them at Skydive Arizona. Skyride’s advertisements were misleading and false and had actually confused a consumer, the court held. Skyride further challenged the award of damages.
In awarding actual damages for infringement, the jury considered “an array of customer service evidence and three different financial record exhibits.” The district court referred to “voluminous evidence” concerning Skydive Arizona’s stellar business reputation and the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent in developing and advertising its business. Its failure to provide a specific mathematical formula for the jury to use in calculating actual harm to its goodwill did not undermine the jury’s finding, according to the appeals court..
Disgorgement of Profits
When reviewing an award of lost profits, a court does not ask whether the substance of the evidence was correct or even credible, but only whether the award was based on reasonable inferences and a fair assessment of the evidence. Questions of evidentiary admissibility or credibility must be raised before or during trial, the court held.
In the lost profits analysis, Skydive Arizona’s expert estimated Skyride’s revenues from Arizona by calculating the number of Arizona residents in Skyride’s records, increasing that number to account for files missing residence information, and multiplying that number by an average transaction amount. He added an interest factor of 10 percent as allowed by Arizona law.
On appeal, Skyride alleged that the calculations were clearly erroneous because they did not deduct vendor payments or overhead costs. However, Skyride did not raise these arguments until after trial. The district court held these untimely, and the appellate court agreed.
The Ninth Circuit did reverse the award of double damages for the trademark infringement and false advertising claims. Although the Lanham Act permits a district court to enter damages not exceeding three times the amount, such an enhancement must constitute compensation rather than a penalty.
In this instance, the district court emphasized the purposefully deceitful nature of Skyride’s conduct. “Instead of discussing the appropriate award to compensate Skydive Arizona or to deter SKYRIDE, the district court focused on the need for SKYRIDE to ‘appreciate’ and ‘accept the wrongfulness of their conduct’ ”
Accordingly, the award of twice actual damages was reversed and the jury’s original award was reinstated.
The decision is Skydive Arizona, Inc. v. Quattrocchi, No. 10-16196, March 12, 2012.