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Intellectual Property

A Weird Copyright Case for IP Attorneys: Copyright Owner Waits 12 Years to Open His Mail, Guilty of Laches in Infringement Case

In 1999, Randy Sorenson, who had drafted a certification manual for pilot escort vehicle training, met with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Evergreen Safety Council regarding the development of a pilot vehicle training program. That same year, Evergreen printed its own manual, but before publication, Evergreen sent Sorenson a letter enclosing a draft version.

Twelve years later, RSA Networks (Sorenson's company) filed a copyright case against Evergreen. Evergreen claimed laches and accused Sorenson of unreasonable delay. Sorenson blamed his delay on the fact that Evergreen's letter was not opened when it was received in 1999 and that RSA did not open the letter, or become aware of its contents, until 2010.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the copyright case's dismissal on the grounds of laches. Evergreen Safety Council v. RSA Network, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 21593 (9th Cir. Wash. Oct. 17, 2012) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]. The court held that:

The laches evaluation period in this case began to run on the day when Sorenson received Evergreen's draft manual and the Letter, sent by Evergreen on May 12, 1999, because that is the date on which Sorenson knew, or should have known, of the allegedly infringing content. The fact that Sorenson had the Evergreen draft manual in his possession in 1999, regardless of whether he actually read it, demonstrates that he should have known of the infringement approximately ten years before he commenced his action in 2009. The delay was unreasonable because it involved no evaluation or investigation of the claim, or other legitimate justification; RSA merely slept on its rights. Sorenson cannot rely on the fact that he allegedly did not open the Letter containing the draft manual until nearly twelve years later.

(citations omitted)

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