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Ho v. Taflove

January 15, 2009

SENG-TIONG HO AND YINGYAN HUANG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ALLEN TAFLOVE AND SHIH-HUI CHANG, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Seng-Tiong Ho ("Ho") and Yingyan Huang ("Huang") filed suit against defendants Allen Taflove ("Taflove") and ShihHui Chang ("Chang") alleging copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation, false designation of origin, fraud, conversion, and unfair competition. Plaintiffs claims center around a mathematical model they originated, which defendants are alleged to have copied and used in various publications. Defendants move both to dismiss and for summary judgment on all counts. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted and the motion to dismiss is denied as moot. Plaintiffs' motion to strike defendants' reply to plaintiffs' response to defendants' Rule 56.1 statement of facts is granted.

I.

Ho and Taflove are professors of engineering at Northwestern University ("Northwestern") and, during the relevant period, Huang and Chang were engineering graduate students at Northwestern. In 1998, Ho first conceived and formulated a "4-level 2-electron atomic model with Pauli Exclusion Principle*fn1 for simulating the electron dynamics of active media using Finite Difference Time Domain*fn2 method" (the "Model"). The Model is an advance relative to earlier models*fn3 that did not include the Pauli Exclusion Principle or certain "pumping dynamics," among other things.

Plaintiffs implemented and validated the Model for various applications, including optical switching and various gain media. Ho completed the derivation of equations for the Model by 1999 and involved Chang in implementing the equations into a FDTD computer program code for the purpose of running simulations of the Model. The computer program was developed from an earlier FDTD program, which was created at least in part by Chang. Chang was a research assistant for Ho and worked under his instruction until sometime in 2002 when he left to join Taflove's research group.

Huang started working for Ho in his lab in September of 2000.

Between 2000 and 2001, she worked on applications of the Model to various mediums. The main focus of her work with Ho was to apply the Model to a range of gain medium (e.g., laser) parameters. Plaintiffs' research results and the Model were partially published in a conference paper in 2001 and then published in detail in 2002 in Huang's thesis.

The Model's original formulation and derivation of equations were also contained in Ho's 1998 and 1999 notebooks, and published in a 2002 presentation. The notebooks, the 2002 presentation, Huang's thesis, and two figures used in Huang's thesis were registered with the Copyright Office in 2007.*fn4 (See Pls.' Resp. at 3.)(providing copyright registration numbers). There is presently no known commercial use for the Model.

Defendants submitted an article to the Optics Express Journal ("OE") and a four-page symposium paper to IEEE APS ("APS"), an online archival publication, describing the Model and discussing its applications. Some of the figures and equations published in Huang's thesis were used in these articles. The OE article was published in 2003 and covered the same subject matter as the APS Paper, but with more detail. Defendants did not include attributions to plaintiffs for their work or reference Huang's thesis. Plaintiffs filed complaints against defendants with OE, APS, and Northwestern alleging plagiarism. On July 31, 2007, plaintiffs filed the present suit alleging copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation, false designation of origin, fraud, conversion, and unfair competition.*fn5

II.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the record shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The movant initially bears the burden of "identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)(citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). Once the movant has met this burden, the non-movant "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading," but rather "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).

I must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2505.

III.

The Copyright Act provides that "[c]opyright protection subsists... in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression... from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." 17 U.S.C. ยง 102(a). As a general matter, a plaintiff asserting copyright infringement must prove: "(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work ...


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