SEATTLE (CN) – A federal judge threw out an award of more than $1.7 million to the estate of Jimi Hendrix, saying the jury’s verdict in a trademark infringement suit was the “product of speculation, error, and disregard of the court’s instructions.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly reduced the award to $60,000, refused to grant treble damages, modified a proposed permanent injunction to include fair use rights and gave the estate $50,000 in attorneys’ fees instead of the $500,000 requested.
Authentic Hendrix and Experience Hendrix, run by Jimi’s stepsister Janie Hendrix, sued Hendrix Licensing and Andrew Pitsicalis over use of a Jimi Hendrix headshot logo and signature. Jimi’s brother Leon Hendrix is on Hendrix Licensing’s board of directors. In an earlier ruling, Zilly referred to the case as “part of a continuing saga of litigation” over Jimi Hendrix’s legacy.
Before trial, the judge granted Hendrix Licensing and Pitsicalis partial summary judgment, striking down as unconstitutional portions of the Washington Personality Rights Act that allowed anyone to claim publicity rights in Washington, even if they had no connection to the state.
Later a jury awarded a $1.7 million verdict to the Hendrix estate based on lost profits and injury to reputation or goodwill.
But Zilly said Wednesday that the verdict on lost profits “is unsupported by the evidence.”
Experience Hendrix “presented no evidence concerning their expenses, which must be deducted from gross revenue to arrive at an amount that can be awarded as lost profits,” and could not prove a relationship between a drop in revenue and the infringing products, according to the 19-page decision.
“For the foregoing reasons, the court concludes that the evidence, when construed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, permits only one reasonable conclusion, which is contrary to the jury’s verdict concerning lost profits,” Zilly wrote. “Having entirely failed to carry their burden of proving expenses, plaintiffs are not entitled, as a matter of law, to an award of lost profits.”
Zilly also admonished the jury for awarding $750,000 for injury to reputation and $300,000 for injury to goodwill.
“The jury’s verdict awarding vastly different amounts for injury to reputation and injury to goodwill cannot be reconciled with the court’s instruction that, for a business, reputation and goodwill are the same thing,” he wrote.
“For the foregoing reasons, the court concludes that the jury’s awards for injury to reputation and injury to goodwill are contrary to the court’s instructions and unsupported by the evidence,” he added. “The jury’s verdict as to these items of damage can only be based on speculation, guesswork, and/or conjecture.”
Zilly also rejected the Hendrix estate’s request for more than $500,000 in attorneys’ fees, saying the family had “utterly failed to assist the court” in separating time spent on unsuccessful motions or claims that were withdrawn.
The family can recoup just $50,000 on that count, he said. If Wednesday’s order setting aside the judgments is reversed or vacated, the defendants can have a new trial, the judge concluded.
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