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Foreign Furniture Firm Floundering in Forum Fracas

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 18, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Have you ever seen one of those armchairs built to look as if it were modeled after a B-52 bomber? Well, the maker of these retro-cool furniture pieces is bringing a lawsuit against a Canadian company for infringing on its IP, but there seems to be a little trouble with the proper venue ...

Forum Non Conveniens

The maker of these lovechild-of-aeroplane-and-chair-type furniture pieces is Halo Creative Design, a HongKong based company. They sued Comptoir, a Canadian company, in the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court for infringing on intellectual property associated with some of its designs -- including the chair you see above. Allegations included violations of design patents, copyrights and pending trademark rights.

But the district court judge dismissed the case on forum non conveniens grounds -- convinced that Illinois was an inconvenient forum for Comptoir to be haled into for defense. He argued that Canada would be the better forum and that the rights of Halo "not be lost" in Canadian court.

Circuit Steps In

The Federal Circuit reversed the district court's decision and remanded. It took into account the same factors that all current law school students are familiar with: convenience of the parties, accessibility of evidence, willingness of material witness, etc. In the most apposite SCOTUS case on the issue, the circuit cited Piper Aircraft (1981), and noted that in some cases US Federal Courts could dismiss IP cases to foreign courts, but that the alternative foreign court must be "adequate" to hear the controversy; though it may not apply the same substantive law.

However, in this case, the Federal Circuit was deeply concerned that the Canadian court might simply pass over Halo's rights as plaintiff in bringing the suit in an American court. Thus, the more proper forum was in the United States because the laws being invoked were American. "The copyright and patent laws of the United States certainly reflect such territoriality. Additionally, the court's review of the facts did not indicate that any violations took place within Canadian territory. Thus, the Circuit felt that the state interest of the United States to hear the case trumped the Canadian courts on fairness and other factors.

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