On January 9, 2019, the Ninth Circuit ordered a coffee company to $2.4 million in damages to companies connected to reggae legend Bob Marley for continuing to sell Marley-branded coffee after a trademark license agreement between the companies was terminated.
The litigation began in August 2016, after Jammin Java allegedly failed to pay royalties on the long-term license for Marley-branded coffee and then continued to use Marley's trademarks after a separate, short-term license ended.
The Ninth Circuit upheld U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson's May 2017 ruling that Jammin Java Corp. must pay $2,458,835 in damages- which it said represented Jammin Java's gross revenue since July 2016- when the Marley family companies terminated their short-term license agreement with the coffee company. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's finding the district court did not err in finding that the written terms of the license agreement prevented Jammin Java's defenses that the companies had orally modified and waived the royalty payment schedule under the agreement.
“Jammin Java is correct that under California contract law oral modification, waiver, and equitable estoppel defenses may be asserted despite contractual provisions prohibiting oral waiver or oral modifications…However, we may affirm the district court's grant of partial summary judgment on any basis properly supported by the record.”
The record showed that Jammin Java had failed to provide quarterly and annual statements under the agreement despite written notice, and as a result the Marley family companies had satisfied the procedural requirement for termination under the agreement, the panel said. “Here, the written notice provision unambiguously sets out the procedure through which Jammin Java could terminate the agreement…Moreover, the intent of the provision is clear: to give the party allegedly in breach notice and an opportunity to cure the breach without terminating the agreement.”
The panel also rejected Jammin Java's arguements that the lower court wrongly awarded its profits without making a finding of willful infringement of the marks first, concluding that such a finding was not necessary where a “plaintiff seeks the defendant's profits as a measure of its own damages.”
The Marley companies were also awarded $371,000 in unpaid royalties, according to court documents.
Circuit Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Kim M. Wardlaw sat on the panel for the Ninth Circuit. U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt sat by designation.
Jammin Java is represented by Arthur P. Hawgood III and Alexander D. Hawgood of Hawgood Hawgood & Moran LLP.
The Marley companies are represented by Bonnie Eskenazi and Josh Geller of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP.
The case is Hope Road Merchandising LLC et al. v. Jammin Java Corp., case number 17-56245, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
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