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Florida Supreme Court Gives School the Right to Enforce Its Trademark

Who gets to sue someone when an injury occurs? This seemingly simple question has actually given rise to a fairly complex area of the law known as standing. Fundamentally, the standing doctrine is designed to make sure that the people suing for an injury are actually the people who were harmed. For instance, courts do not want bystanders to traffic accidents suing on behalf of the injured driver. However, not all cases are so clean cut.

The issue of standing recently arose in a Florida Supreme Court trademark case, Florida Virtual School v. K12 inc. Florida Virtual School is an online high school that the state established. The school sued K12 for trademark infringement, and K12 responded that Florida Virtual School did not have standing because it was a state entity. Ultimately, the Court ruled that Florida Virtual School was allowed to enforce its trademark rights.

The Case

Florida Virtual School is an online high school that was originally established in the late 90s. In 2000, Florida turned Florida Virtual School into an agency of the state. In 2003, the state began allowing private companies to compete with Florida Virtual School in the online schooling market. K12 was one of these companies. As part of its competitive strategy, K12 began using the name Florida Virtual Academy for its services. K12 also began using flvs.com as its website, which Florida Virtual School argued was designed to siphon customers away from its website, flvs.net.

K12 counters the various claims brought against it using a standing argument. As an agency of the state, all of Florida Virtual School’s trademarks are owned by the Department of State. K12 argued that that ownership meant that the Department of State was the only entity that could sue for the infringement of the trademarks.

Understanding Standing

The controversy in the case arose from the conflict between two statutes. There are multiple Florida statutes that give the Department of State ownership of Florida Virtual School’s trademarks, including 286.021, Florida Statutes (2013) and the Florida Virtual School enabling statute, 1002.37(2)(c), Florida Statutes (2013). K12 argued that this meant that only the Department of State had standing to enforce the marks. Essentially, they were arguing that the Florida Virtual School did not actually have any skin in the game.

However the issue was not so clear cut. Florida Virtual School’s enabling statute also gave the school’s board of trustees the right to “acquire, enjoy, use, and dispose of . . . trademarks.” Florida Virtual School argued that the ability to acquire and use trademarks would be meaningless if it did not include the standing to actually enforce them. The enabling statute also granted the board of trustees the power of a “body corporate” and the authority necessary to operate and improve the Florida Virtual School. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court decided that it was the intent of the legislature that the Florida Virtual School, in addition to the Department of State have the authority to enforce the trademarks.

If you believe that your company’s marks are being infringed, contact a West Palm Beach trademark litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today. Our dedicated attorneys can help protect your business and its reputation.

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