Court of Appeals Refuses to Make Suits Against Non-U.S. Governments Easier Where IP Violations Are Claimed

The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2014 - Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)

Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. v. Islamic Republic of Iran, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Sept. 16, 2013

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. concludes that it does not have jurisdiction over a suit by Bell Helicopter under the Lanham Act claiming that helicopters built by Iran and sold outside the U.S. infringed on Bell’s "trade dress." Suits may not be brought against other sovereigns in U.S. courts unless an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities ACT (FSIA) is satisfied. One such exception is that the claim involves a commercial activity by the sovereign that has a "direct effect" in the U.S. Here, the Iranian helicopters were not sold in the U.S., nor was there evidence of confusion among U.S. customers, which facts had been grounds for dismissal in prior cases involving alleged violations of other laws. Bell argued that the FSIA should be applied more broadly in the context of IP violations. The Court disagreed, noting that even prior cases involving IP violations by non-U.S. governments all had alleged an effect in the U.S., even if it was only via websites accessible in the U.S. 

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