IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
December 8, 2009
DENNIS RIORDAN, PLAINTIFF,
H.J. HEINZ COMPANY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer
This action involves pro se Plaintiff Dennis Riordan's ("Plaintiff") claims against H.J. Heinz Company ("Defendant" or "Heinz") related to Plaintiff's unsolicited submission of a proposed bottling device invention to Defendant and Defendant's later sale of its condiments in an up-side down bottle. Presently before the Court is a third motion to dismiss filed by Defendant, pursuant to which it seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement claims set forth in his Second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 37). In support of its motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's misappropriation claim is barred by a waiver agreement executed by Plaintiff and submitted to Defendant in conjunction with his proposed invention and/or the applicable statute of limitations and that Plaintiff has otherwise properly failed to state claims upon which relief may be granted for both misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement. (Docket Nos. 39, 42). Plaintiff maintains that the waiver is not enforceable, the statute of limitations should be tolled and that he has properly pled his claims. (Docket Nos. 41 and 42). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, and for the following reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On January 21, 1999, Plaintiff filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to obtain a patent for a bottling container for condiments and flavored beverages, which he named a "Dual Chamber Container." (Docket No. 37 at ¶¶ 3, 9). Shortly thereafter, on January 28, 1999, Plaintiff initiated contact with Defendant by sending a letter to Dan Vogus, Defendant's Associate General Counsel, informing him that he recently applied for a patent for a container that would be "highly advantageous" to Defendant's business. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 5; Docket No. 39-2).*fn1 Specifically, the letter stated that the device is a "unique innovation that allows you to provide the consumer with two (2) products occupying the same vertical space (Space Saver), e.g., mustard and catsup." (Docket No. 39-2).*fn2 On February 1, 1999, Defendant responded that it does not, as a matter of policy, accept any unsolicited submission of ideas from outside the company absent a written understanding defining the conditions relating to such unsolicited submissions.*fn3 (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 6; Docket No. 39-4). Defendant informed Plaintiff that he must execute and return the attached "Request for Consideration of Idea" form prior to Defendant considering Plaintiff's proposed device. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 6; Docket No. 39-4).
Plaintiff signed, executed and mailed the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form on April 20, 1999 along with a minimal description of his idea and drawings of his bottling concept. (Docket No. 37 at ¶¶ 6-7; Docket No. 39-5). Pursuant to the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form, Plaintiff agreed that "[s]ubject to the conditions set forth in this document, I am submitting for [Defendant's] consideration my idea relating to: ... Dual Chamber Bottle with Symmetrical Ends." (Docket No. 39-5). Plaintiff's submission further explains that the device "[c]an be used as dispenser of for ex. Mustard & Catsup or other combinations." (Docket No. 39-5). The executed form also sets forth the terms of the solicitation as follows:
1. I acknowledge and agree that this submission has not in any way been solicited by H.J.Heinz Company ("HEINZ"), is not made in confidence, and does not establish any confidential relationship between HEINZ and me.
2. I agree that the use or non-use that HEINZ may make of any ideas submitted by me shall be at the exclusive discretion of HEINZ.
3. I acknowledge and agree that HEINZ has not and is not promising any compensation for my idea or the use of my idea, and that all agreements as to compensation, if any, shall be in writing.
4. I waive and relinquish any rights that I may have in connection with said idea, except those rights that a valid patent, trademark, or copyright may cover.
5. I agree that HEINZ shall be under no obligation to return any material that [I] submit to HEINZ.
6. I further agree that the conditions set forth in this letter shall apply to any additional disclosures I make to HEINZ by me relating to the above idea.
(Id.). As a supplement to the brief description on the form, Plaintiff attached a handwritten descriptive page*fn4 and a notarized typewritten page,*fn5 containing bullet point descriptions of his bottle beverage from going flat (MAJOR CONSUMER COMPLAINT) 1 liter remains carbonated invention. (Id.). Also attached were a series of technical illustrations of the container labeled Figure 1 through Figure 6.*fn6 (Id.). Defendant responded to Plaintiff in June of 1999, thanking him for his letter regarding a potential new bottle, but ultimately rejecting his idea after reviewing the concept with the appropriate department.*fn7 (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 8).
Plaintiff claims that he introduced an idea for a "new bottling concept" to Defendant in his 1999 correspondence. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 12). Plaintiff's submission of his idea to Defendant was financially motivated. (Id. at ¶ 16). With respect to the specifics of the idea which he submitted, he avers that it was a "new bottle which can stand up-side down by the novel idea of creating a base by extending the walls of the container beyond it's [sic] capped closure and standing on the circumferential edge of that extension." (Id.). He complains that Defendant "knowingly and unlawfully deceived [him] by not informing him of [the] company's intent to expand on [his] idea by simply making the base detachable." (Id.). He further maintains that his idea was "the impetus in the development of dispensing ketchup and other condiments in an 'up-side' down manner." (Id.).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant permitted its employees to review and examine his idea, including his drawings and description, which enabled Defendant to adapt or alter his idea and ultimately develop its up-side down condiment dispenser. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 15). He contends that these alterations were made by Defendant "in an attempt to conceal" its misappropriation of his idea. (Id. at ¶ 15). Moreover, Plaintiff complains that the Defendant's misappropriation or theft of his idea occurred three years after he submitted his "novel idea, drawings included, to Defendant," i.e., in 2002. (Id. at¶¶ 12, 16).
After his 1999 submissions to Defendant, on August 22, 2000, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued Plaintiff Patent Number 6,105,812, for his "Dual Chamber Container." (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 9; Docket No. 39-3). Plaintiff avers that Defendant officially introduced its "up-side down bottle" via a press release in August of 2002. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 10). He further alleges that in 2005 or 2006, Defendant altered their bottling terminology from "up-side down" to "top-down" bottle. (Id.). In January of 2006, Plaintiff contacted Defendant's legal department to request copies of their previous correspondence. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 11). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant informed him that he had been "red-flagged" in their system and an attorney for Defendant asked Plaintiff if he was going to sue for any reason. (Id.).
Based on the above allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims of misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement against Heinz. (Docket No. 37). With respect to his claim of copyright infringement, Plaintiff avers that he sought a valid copyright registration for his "bottle design drawings," "artwork" and associated text on September 2, 2009, prior to the filing of his Second Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 18). In support of this claim, Plaintiff has attached a "Form CO - Application for Copyright Registration" dated September 1, 2009 to his Second Amended Complaint, which he claims was mailed to the United States Copyright Office. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 37-3). He states that because of his ignorance of the law, he believed that his patent protected the subject matter of the materials to which he now seeks copyright protection. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 20).
Finally, Plaintiff seeks the following relief: (1) a declaratory judgment stating that Defendant violated Plaintiff's rights, including causing Plaintiff psychological trauma by misappropriating his idea and by infringing Plaintiff's copyright privileges; (2) an injunction ordering Defendant to cease and desist all bottling production "until a favorable resolution can be satisfactorily substantiated by all parties of concern"; and (3) compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $57,000,000, plus royalties. (Docket No. 37 at 5).
III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff initially commenced this action by filing his Complaint pro se in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (Docket No. 4). Thereafter, on August 11, 2008, that Court entered an order transferring the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. ( Id.). On August 22, 2008, Plaintiff moved for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 5), which this Court denied. (Docket No. 6). After paying the proper filing fee on August 25, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Complaint with this Court. (Docket No. 8).
On October 20, 2008, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6), 12(e), and, in the alternative, Rule 12(d) and 56. (Docket No. 11). Plaintiff filed his response on December 23, 2008. (Docket No. 18). Then, on December 30, 2008, upon consideration of the parties' submissions, this Court ordered Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 22).
Pursuant to this Order, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on February 17, 2009. (Docket No. 25). Defendant again moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims. (Docket No. 26). The Court liberally construed Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as potentially asserting claims of misappropriation of ideas, misappropriation of trade secrets, trademark infringement and copyright infringement. (Docket No. 35 at 6). Further, the Court recognized that Plaintiff had voluntarily withdrawn any claim of patent infringement in his pleadings. (Id.). After considering the parties' submissions, the Court granted Defendant's motion and ordered that: Plaintiffs' misappropriation of trade secrets and trademark infringement claims were dismissed, with prejudice; Plaintiffs' misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement claims were dismissed, without prejudice; and Plaintiff was granted leave to amend his misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement claims. (Docket No. 35 at 19). Specifically, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend his misappropriation of ideas claim in order to describe succinctly his "idea" that was allegedly misappropriated and to amend his copyright infringement claim "to the extent that he can allege that he owns a registered copyright in any of the subject matter at issue." (Id.).
As directed, Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint on September 14, 2009. (Docket No. 37). Defendant then filed its third Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support on September 28, 2009. (Docket Nos. 38, 39). Plaintiff filed two pleadings in response, the first styled as a "Sur-Reply" and the second as a "Brief in Support," on October 28, 2009 and October 30, 2009, respectively. (Docket Nos. 41, 42). Finally, Defendant filed its Reply Brief on November 11, 2009.
All briefing has concluded and the motion is now ripe for disposition.
IV. LEGAL STANDARD
A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2008)); see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).
The Supreme Court in Iqbal clarified that the decision in Twombly "expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1953; Fowler, 2009 U.S.App. LEXIS 18626, at *15. The Court further explained that although a district court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, the pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949, 1953. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210; and Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir.2008). The determination of whether a complaint contains a plausible claim for relief under the facts asserted "is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. In light of Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that district courts should first separate the factual and legal elements of a claim and then, accepting the "well-pleaded facts as true," "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. Ultimately, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Additionally, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his allegations are to be liberally construed as he is held to a less stringent standard than attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); see also Washam v. Stesis, 321 Fed.Appx. 104, 105 (3d Cir. 2009)(not precedential).
In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court "may look beyond the complaint to matters of public record, including court files and records ... and documents referenced in the complaint or essential to a plaintiff's claim which are attached to either the [c]omplaint or the defendant's motion." Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., Civ. A. No. 08-0626, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55026, at *7 (W.D.Pa. July 15, 2008) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may consider "an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Miller v. Clinton County, 544 F.3d 542, 550 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196.). Otherwise, a plaintiff with a legally insufficient claim could survive a motion to dismiss "simply by failing to attach a dispositive document on which it relied." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196.
The Court first turns to the alleged waiver, a threshold issue, and will then address the sufficiency of Plaintiff's allegations set forth in his misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement claims.
A. Effectiveness of the Waiver in the Request for Consideration of Idea Form
In his Second Amended Complaint, as well as several other pleadings in this case, Plaintiff admits that he signed the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form in conjunction with his submissions to Heinz in 1999. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 6). Pursuant to its terms, Plaintiff agreed, in pertinent part, that: (1) his idea submission was not solicited by Defendant; (2) no confidential relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant was created by his submission; (3) no compensation for the idea was promised by Defendant and that any agreement regarding compensation would be set forth in a separate written agreement; and (4) he "waived and relinquished" any rights in his ideas, except those covered by a "valid patent, trademark or copyright." (Docket No. 39-5). Defendant argues that the language of the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form is legally binding and operates as a waiver of Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claim. (Docket No. 39 at 6). Plaintiff contends that the form is not a contractual agreement and, further maintains that he was not made fully aware of the form's intent and that "there was not a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver." (Docket No. 41 at 1-2).
This Court has previously applied Pennsylvania choice of law rules, and concluded that Pennsylvania law governs Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claim. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 498 (1941); Hammersmith v. TIG Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 220, 230 (3d Cir.2007). With respect to the Defendant's waiver defense, there are no substantive differences in the laws of Pennsylvania and New York*fn8 regarding general principles of contractual waivers or release agreements. Accordingly, as there is no conflict between the laws of the two jurisdictions, the Court will apply Pennsylvania law to this dispute. See Hammersmith, 480 F.3d at 230 ("If two jurisdictions' laws are the same, then there is no conflict at all, and a choice of law analysis is unnecessary.").
Releases of liability, such as that contained in paragraph 4 of the "Request for Consideration of Idea" agreement, "are not favored" under Pennsylvania law. Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 902 A.2d 1266, 1269 (Pa.Super. 2006)(citing Zimmer v. Mitchell and Ness, 385 A.2d 437, 439 (Pa.Super. 1978), aff'd, 416 A.2d 1010 (Pa. 1980)). However, a release agreement may be enforceable if: (1) it does "not contravene any policy of the law"; (2) it involves a "contract between individuals relating to their private affairs"; (3) each party is a "free bargaining agent"; and (4) the agreement "spell[s] out the intent of the parties with the utmost particularity." Id. (citing Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 603 A.2d 663, 665 (Pa. Super. 1992)). In addition, the release must be strictly construed and "against the party asserting it." Id. (citing Kotovsky, 603 A.2d at 665).
In this Court's estimation, all of the above requirements have been established in this case, and the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form is a binding agreement, which will be enforced.
The agreement does not contravene any public policy as there are no statutes or regulations barring parties from limiting their rights to those arising under the patent, copyright or trademark laws of the United States in an agreement involving an unsolicited idea submission by an inventor to a company. In fact, several district courts have held that similar waivers were effective to bar common law claims.*fn9 Moreover, an unsolicited submission of an idea by an individual inventor to a company pursuant to the type of agreement involved in this case does not constitute an unconscionable contract of adhesion,*fn10 which generally arises in the context of a consumer purchasing goods or services from a company. See Victor G. Reiling Assoc., 406 F.Supp.2d at 185 ("Plaintiffs' argument that the [agreement] was a contract of adhesion and therefore unenforceable because it was not fairly negotiated and/or because [the inventor] did not understand its terms also fails as a matter of law."). With respect to Plaintiff's contention that the waiver was not knowing and voluntary because he believed "[t]here would eventually be some sort of compensation forthcoming for the use of any and all 'ideas,'" his allegations and correspondence with Defendant demonstrate otherwise. Indeed, he presently avers that he executed the "Request for Consideration" form and submitted it, along with his drawings, etc., to Defendant "in an attempt to be compensated from the defendant for the introduction of the idea," (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 15), that he was on a "quest to find suitable financial backing and/or compensation for release of the idea to the bottle concept" (Docket No. 41 at 1), and the form itself explicitly states that "I acknowledge and agree that HEINZ has not and is not promising any compensation for my idea or the use of my idea, and that all agreements as to compensation, if any, shall be in writing" (Docket No. 39-5).
The "Request for Consideration of Idea" form also clearly involves a "contract between individuals relating to their private affairs" and both parties can be considered "free bargaining agents." Beck-Hummel, 902 A.2d at 1269. Again, the substance of the agreement involves the unsolicited submission of an idea by a private individual to a corporation for its consideration to determine if a potential business relationship could be formed. (Docket No. 39-5). Moreover, although Defendant's initial correspondence directed Plaintiff to execute and return the attached "Request for Consideration of Idea" form, which he did without question, Plaintiff does not allege that he was prevented from negotiating the terms with Defendant.
Further, the "Request for Consideration of Idea" agreement, strictly construed against Defendant, its drafter, "spell[s] out the intent of the parties with [the] utmost particularity." Beck-Hummel, 902 A.2d at 1269. The pertinent provision states that "I waive and relinquish any rights that I may have in connection with said idea, except those rights that a valid patent, trademark, or copyright may cover." (Docket No. 39-5 at ¶ 4). This language is clear and unambiguous, explicitly providing that Plaintiff agreed to waive any rights that he possessed in the unsolicited ideas he presented to Defendant, except those covered by the patent, trademark, or copyright laws. See American Flint Glass Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, 581 (3d Cir. 1995)(ambiguity is a question of law for the court and "[t]o be unambiguous, an agreement must be reasonably capable of only one construction."). No other construction is reasonable.
Therefore, given the express language of the waiver in the "Request for Consideration of Idea" agreement, which is enforceable, Plaintiff plainly waived any potential claims arising from his submissions to Defendant in 1999, except to the extent that his rights were covered by a valid patent, trademark or copyright. See Hassell, 982 at 528 ("The Court concludes that the language contained in the Suggestion Agreement is susceptible of only one interpretation. The plaintiffs may only bring claims against Chrysler resulting from patent, copyright or trademark infringement."). Plaintiff's remaining claims*fn11 are only for misappropriation of ideas, a state common law claim, and copyright infringement. Accordingly, Plaintiff waived his right to assert a claim for misappropriation of ideas and this claim must be dismissed.
B. Plaintiff's Claims Fail as a Matter of Law
Although the Court has found that the waiver in the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form is enforceable, and that Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claim must be dismissed because it is precluded by the waiver, the Court will now address Plaintiff's allegations of his misappropriation of ideas and copyright infringement claims, which are also subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
1. Misappropriation of Ideas
Plaintiff was granted leave to amend his misappropriation of ideas claim in order to permit him to clarify the idea which he alleges he submitted to Defendant. (Docket No. 35 at 19). He alleges in his Second Amended Complaint that the idea he submitted is for a "new bottle which can stand up-side down by the novel idea of creating a base by extending the walls of the container beyond it's [sic] capped closure and standing on the circumferential edge of that extension." (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 12). He references the patent he owns for a "Dual Chamber Container" as well as the six drawings he submitted to Defendant, which are virtually identical to the drawings in his patent. (Docket No. 37). Plaintiff maintains that Defendant permitted its employees to review and examine his idea, including his drawings and descriptions. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 15). He claims that this review enabled Defendant to enhance, adapt or alter his idea "by simply making the base detachable" and, ultimately, develop its up-side down condiment dispenser. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 15). These allegations are insufficient as a matter of law.
Under Pennsylvania law, the tort of misappropriation of ideas has two elements: (1) the plaintiff had an idea that was novel and concrete, and (2) his idea was misappropriated by the defendant. Blackmon v. Iverson, 324 F.Supp.2d 602, 607 (E.D.Pa.2003)(citing Sorbee Int'l Ltd. v. Chubb Custom Ins. Co., 735 A.2d. 712, 714 (Pa.Super. 1999).
For an idea to be legally protected, the idea must meet the threshold requirement of novelty. Blackmon, 324 F.Supp.2d at 607. An idea is novel and merits protection when it is truly innovative, inventive, and new. Id. An idea is not novel if it is merely a clever version or variation of already existing ideas. Id. Novelty and concreteness are required so that the court can identify an idea as having been created by one party and stolen by another. Sorbee, 735 A.2d. at 714.
At this stage, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a novel and concrete idea for a dual-chamber container with extended walls that create bases around the capped enclosures on both ends of the bottle, permitting the container to stand on either side. However, Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that Defendant misappropriated this idea.
With respect to whether an idea has been misappropriated, Pennsylvania courts look to the three elements of common law misappropriation:
(1) the plaintiff "has made substantial investment of time, effort, and money into creating the thing misappropriated such that the court can characterize the 'thing' as a kind of property right," (2) the defendant "has appropriated the 'thing' at little or no cost such that the court can characterize the defendant's actions as 'reaping where it has not sown,'" and (3) the defendant "has injured the plaintiff by the misappropriation."
Sorbee, 735 A.2d at 716 (quoting LeBas Fashion Imports of USA, Inc. v. ITT Hartford Ins. Group, 50 Cal.App.4th 548, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 36 (Ca.App.1996)).*fn12 The first requirement is met, as the Court can reasonably infer from the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint that Plaintiff invested time and money in the creation of his idea, including by obtaining a patent for his dual chamber container. However, Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged the remaining elements. Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant produced a "dual chamber container" or even a single chamber bottle "which can stand up-side down" on a base which extends from the "walls of the container beyond it's capped closure." (See Docket No. 37). Instead, he maintains that Defendant improved his idea for a dual chamber container "by making the base detachable,"creating its up-side down or TOPDOWN(r) bottle within which its condiment products are now sold. (Docket No. 37 at ¶ 10). He also voluntarily submitted his ideas to Defendant, subject to the terms of the "Request for Consideration of Ideas" form, agreeing that "the use or non-use that HEINZ may make of any ideas submitted by [Plaintiff] shall be at the exclusive discretion of HEINZ." (Docket No. 39-5). Therefore, he has not established that Defendant "appropriated" his idea.
Plaintiff has also failed to allege that he was injured by the alleged misappropriation, as he maintains only that he was not paid for his idea.
In order to state a claim for idea misappropriation, it must be the taking of the idea itself that causes the plaintiff a competitive or other financial harm. This occurs only when the defendant's use of the idea deprives the plaintiff of some competitive or financial benefit or causes some other detriment separate from the misappropriation.
Blackmon, 324 F.Supp.2d at 610. Merely alleging that one was not paid for an idea which was voluntarily submitted to another is insufficient. Id.*fn13
For the above reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claim is granted, and said claim is dismissed, with prejudice.*fn14
2. Copyright Infringement
The Court also granted Plaintiff leave to amend his claim of copyright infringement against Defendant, "to the extent that he can allege he owns a registered copyright in any of the subject matter at issue." (Docket No. 35 at 19). In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he has submitted an application to register a copyright "relating to subject matter originating in 1998 of plaintiff's 'bottle design drawings' as described 'art-work' within the initial complaint, as well as the first amended complaint." (Docket No. 37). Upon consideration of the allegations of his Second Amended Complaint, and the attachments thereto, Plaintiff has failed to properly allege either registration or ownership of a copyright, and his copyright infringement claim must be dismissed.
Initiation of a civil suit for copyright infringement requires either preregistration or registration of the work in question in accordance with the United States Copyright Act prior to initiating the suit. 17 U.S.C. § 411(a).*fn15 This Court has previously recognized that there is a split amongst the Courts of Appeals as to whether a suit can be maintained while an application for copyright registration remains pending, as it is in this case. See Tegg Corp. v. Beckstrom Elec. Co., Civ. A. No. 08-435, 2008 WL 2682602, at *5-6 (W.D.Pa. July 1, 2008). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not addressed this issue. One line of cases, relying on Apple Barrel Prod., Inc. v. Beard, 730 F.2d 384, 386-87 (5th Cir.1984), permits the commencement of a copyright infringement action in district court upon the Copyright Office's receipt of the copyright registration application, copies of the works sought to be copyrighted and the payment of a filing fee. See Tang v. Hwang, 799 F.Supp. 499, 502-03 (E.D.Pa. 1992); R & B, Inc. v. Needa Parts Mfg., Civ. A. No. 01-1234, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17406, 2001 WL 1251211 (E.D.Pa. Aug. 13, 2001); Bieg v. Hovnanian Enters., Inc., Civ. A. No. 98-5528, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17387, 1999 WL 1018578 (E.D.Pa. Nov.8, 1999). A second line of cases requires a plaintiff to plead that he has actually registered the works in question with the Copyright Office prior to commencement of the copyright infringement action. See La Resolana Architects, PA v. Clay Realtors Angel Fire, 416 F.3d 1195, 1200, 1208 (10th Cir.2005)("A suit for copyright infringement cannot be brought unless and until the copyright is registered."); Brewer-Giorgio v. Producers Video, Inc., 216 F.3d 1281, 1285 (11th Cir.2000); In re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, 509 F.3d 116 (2d Cir.2007), cert. granted Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1523, 173 L.Ed.2d 655 (2009); Wellness Pub v. Barefoot, Civ. A. No. 02-3773, 2008 WL 108889 at * 8 (D.N.J. Jan. 8, 2009). In this Court's estimation, the more persuasive view is that set forth in the second line of cases, which adhere to the plain language of 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), and preclude a plaintiff from bringing a copyright infringement claim while a registration is pending. Plaintiff alleges in his Second Amended Complaint only that he has submitted an application for copyright registration and affixes proof of the filing of the application and, therefore, has failed to meet the jurisdictional prerequisites for bringing a copyright infringement claim in this Court. Accordingly, Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim must be dismissed as this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over his claim.
In addition, even if the registration requirement had been met, Plaintiff's allegations fail to properly set forth the essential elements of a copyright infringement claim. To establish a claim of federal copyright infringement, a plaintiff must establish "(1) ownership of a valid copyright; and (2) unauthorized copies of original elements of the Plaintiff's work." Dun & Bradstreet Software Servs. v. Grace Consulting, Inc., 307 F.3d 197, 206 (3d Cir.2002). Ownership of a valid copyright requires the following: "(1) originality in the author; (2) copyrightability of the subject matter; (3) a national point of attachment of the work, such as to permit a claim of copyright; (4) compliance with applicable statutory formalities; and (5) (if the owner is not the author) a transfer of rights or other relationship between the owner and the author." 13 MELVILLE B. NIMMER AND DAVID NIMMER, NIMMER ON COPYRIGHTS, § 13.01[A] (2007).
Plaintiff's allegations in his Second Amended Complaint that he submitted copyrightable subject matter to Defendant are improper legal conclusions which are not credited at the motion to dismiss stage. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. Further, Plaintiff's "idea" for an up-side down bottle is not copyrightable subject matter. See 17 U.S.C. § 102(b)("In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of form in which is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."); 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(Copyright law only protects a work of authorship "fixed in a tangible medium of expression."). Moreover, to the extent that the text, drawings or other elements contained in the '812 patent contain copyrightable subject matter, Plaintiff has failed to specifically allege same in his Second Amended Complaint. He has also failed to allege that Defendant copied any of these materials. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief for copyright infringement that is plausible on its face.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim must be dismissed.*fn16
C. Leave to Amend Complaint
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that "if a complaint is subject to a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 245. Further, "even when [a] plaintiff does not seek leave to amend his complaint after a defendant moves to dismiss it, unless the district court finds that amendment would be inequitable or futile, the court must inform the plaintiff that he or she has leave to amend the complaint within a set period of time." Id.
Plaintiff will not be granted leave to amend his complaint a third time as any further amendment would be futile. Plaintiff expressly waived any claims against Defendant which were not covered by a valid patent, trademark or copyright in 1999, including his claim for misappropriation of ideas. Moreover, even without these deficiencies, Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient facts to demonstrate a plausible claim to relief for misappropriation of ideas as he has not alleged that Defendant misappropriated his "idea" nor that he was injured by said misappropriation as required by Pennsylvania law. Further amendment cannot cure these deficiencies. Accordingly, Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claims must be dismissed, with prejudice.
In addition, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim because he has not met the statutory prerequisites for filing suit. Given Plaintiff's allegations that he has only applied for a copyright of certain subject matter, further amendment cannot cure this defect. Accordingly, as Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim is premature, it must be dismissed, without prejudice.
Based on the foregoing, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss  is GRANTED. Plaintiff's misappropriation of ideas claim is dismissed, with prejudice, and his claim for copyright infringement is dismissed, without prejudice. However, as all of Plaintiff's claims have been dismissed from this action, the Clerk of Court is directed to mark this case CLOSED.
Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge