Earlier this month, the Federal Circuit ruled that trademark rulings from the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) do not have preclusive effect. This means that ITC actions do not bar district court cases, that ITC trademark rulings are not binding on district courts, and that parties are not estopped from raising arguments they’ve raised in front of the ITC to a district court.
The ITC is an independent quasi-judicial federal agency that, pursuant to Section 337 of the Administrative Procedure Act, has the authority to conduct investigations, hold trial proceedings, and make determinations on intellectual property disputes. According to the ITC’s website, “Section 337 investigations conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission most often involve claims regarding intellectual property rights, including allegations of patent infringement and trademark infringement by imported goods. Both utility and design patents, as well as registered and common law trademarks, may be asserted in these investigations. Other forms of unfair competition involving imported products, such as infringement of registered copyrights, mask works or boat hull designs, misappropriation of trade secrets or trade dress, passing off, and false advertising, may also be asserted. Additionally, antitrust claims relating to imported goods may be asserted.”
The ITC may grant remedies in the form of exclusion orders directing Customs to stop the import of infringing products and cease and desist orders directed to importers and others. ITC cases generally move more quickly than district court cases and monetary damages are not involved.