Thursday, December 02, 2004

No Infinite Arm

Due to the press of other business, this will be a short post.

Today, Judge Andre M. Davis of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a careful and well-reasoned opinion in a case that raised issues concerning whether long-arm jurisdiction could be exercised over a defendant simply because it maintained a web site that sold goods to Maryland residents. The case, Shamsuddin v. Vitamin Research Products, dealt with a claim for patent infringement.

The plaintiff who holds the patent is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medical. The principal defendant is a Nevada corporation that manufactured and sold the allegedly infringing product. The defendant has no assets in Maryland and sells its products via the Internet and through a toll-free telephone number.

The court discussed the so-called "sliding scale" approach first articulated in the case of Zippo Manufacturing Company v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997). In a nutshell, the touchstone of that test is that "the likelihood that personal jurisdiction can be Constitutionally exercised is directly proportionate to the nature and quality of commercial activity that an entity conducts over the Internet."

Judge Davis went beyond the sort of facile application of Zippo that other courts have used. Instead, he focused on whether the defendant had purposely directed its activities toward Maryland and its residents. Because there was no evidence of any focus on sales to Maryland residents (the only sales to Maryland residents were to the plaintiff and his agents), the Court concluded that a Maryland court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The case is important because it stands for the proposition that so long as a commercial website does not target residents of a particular state, sales to those residents will not, of themselves, subject the seller to process in that state.

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