Hetronic International v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, et al., No. 20-6057 (10th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Hetronic International, Inc., a U.S. company, manufactured radio remote controls, the kind used to remotely operate heavy-duty construction equipment. Defendants, none of whom were U.S. citizens, distributed Hetronic’s products, mostly in Europe. After about a ten-year relationship, one of Defendants’ employees stumbled across an old research-and-development agreement between the parties. Embracing a “creative legal interpretation” of the agreement endorsed by Defendants’ lawyers, Defendants concluded that they owned the rights to Hetronic’s trademarks and other intellectual property. Defendants then began manufacturing their own products—identical to Hetronic’s—and selling them under the Hetronic brand, mostly in Europe. Hetronic terminated the parties’ distribution agreements, but that didn’t stop Defendants from making tens of millions of dollars selling their copycat products. Hetronic asserted numerous claims against Defendants, but the issue presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit centered on its trademark claims under the Lanham Act. A jury awarded Hetronic over $100 million in damages, most of which related to Defendants’ trademark infringement. Then on Hetronic’s motion, the district court entered a worldwide injunction barring Defendants from selling their infringing products. Defendants ignored the injunction. In the district court and before the Tenth Circuit, Defendants focused on one defense in particular: Though they accepted that the Lanham Act could sometimes apply extraterritorially, they insisted the Act’s reach didn’t extend to their conduct, which generally involved foreign defendants making sales to foreign consumers. Reviewing this matter as one of first impression in the Tenth Circuit, and after considering the Supreme Court’s lone decision on the issue and persuasive authority from other circuits, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court properly applied the Lanham Act to Defendants’ conduct. But the Court narrowed the district court’s expansive injunction. Affirming in part, and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case for further consideration.