Fortune Legal Pad on the French eBay injunction:
On June 30, the Commercial Court of Paris granted a sweeping injunction sought by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMUY) that would not only require eBay to block all sales of counterfeit Louis Vuitton Malletier and Christian Dior Couture products on its site — a feat eBay has claimed is not technologically feasible — but also to block all sales of genuine LVMH perfumes being sold there by unauthorized distributors.
The latter prohibition would effectively force eBay to block all sales of the specified perfumes — Christian Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy, and Kenzo — since no licensed LVMH distributor is authorized to sell over eBay. The practice of selling genuine products through unauthorized channels — sometimes called gray marketeering — is generally lawful in the United States because it is thought to benefit the consumer.
The commercial court also ordered eBay to pay various LVMH units $60.8 million in damages for past counterfeit or unauthorized sales. The key issues presented by the decision (available here in French) are well summarized in this New York Times article. (eBay’s official statement about the ruling is here; LVMH’s is here.)
The day the commercial court ruled, eBay asked the French Court of Appeals to stay the injunctive portion of it while it appealed the rest of the lower court’s ruling. Without the stay, the injunction — enforceable by daily fines of 50,000 euros (about $80,000) — takes effect as soon as copies of the decision have been formally delivered to eBay’s headquarters in San Jose, California, and its international subsidiary in Berne, Switzerland. (It’s unclear if that has happened yet.) LVMH has agreed to postpone enforcement, however, until the Court of Appeals rules on the stay application, according to an eBay spokesperson. That court told the lawyers today that it would rule Friday.
It’s quite a fascinating case, particularly as it touches upon appealability in the European system, the distinction of internet service providers being merely a "host" versus a "broker," and Louis Vuittion’s (I think outrageous) attempts to halt re-sale of their products.
My focus, however, is on how powerful the remedy here is — the fine is huge and the equitable remedy requires eBay do something they claim they can’t.
In normal commercial litigation, it is very rare for a court to order a losing defendant change their practices in a way that could potentially destroy the business. Normally, the defendant pays compensation for what they have done wrong and goes about their business again; indeed, in Pennsylvania and the general rule is that punitive damages are not available in breach of contract cases.
Such restraint vanishes in the realms of copyright and patent (particularly patent), where the very idea appears to be strong deterrence against either the defendant or anyone else behaving like that ever again.
The end result is, liking securities litigation, few copyright or patent claims actually reach a resolution on the merits, because the stakes are simply too high, and lawyers tend to believe that such cases are so complicated that there’s a high likelihood jurors, judges or arbitrators will become confused even in a slam-dunk case, resulting in uncertainty about the outcome. (See this legal malpractice case arising from a large, complex commercial dispute where "The company claims Linklaters advised it that its case had a 70 percent chance of success if it were to go to arbitration, but at a later date reduced that to 50 percent. It says that, based on Linklaters’ advice, it turned down three settlement offers.")
The initial application of bad for business lawyers is obvious, and, indeed, in most business lawyers will recommend their client cease and desist the moment there’s any copyright or patent claim that isn’t clearly frivolous.
But I think there is another lesson learned here. Big cases settle. Notice how eBay and LVMH are still trying to figure it out.
Except sometimes they don’t. How about: big cases should settle; where the law forces the case to be big, it usually settles.
So how can we, as litigators and trial lawyers, make clear to the other side that our case is really big? I’ll address that more in latter posts.