The Business Court decision last week in Shamoon v. Turkow, 2011 NCBC 46 has a little bit of everything: a plaintiff who is a claimed huckster (maybe even a fraudster), parties who are members of a fundamentalist church, plus a Fortune 50 company. When you mix patents for a high-tech device called the "Ubiquitous Connectivity & Control System for Remote Locations," into that cast of characters, you’ve got something like a holiday delicacy that is itself ubiquitous.
Shamoon is the inventor of the Ubiquitous device. He sold a 1/2 percent interest of some type in it to the Turkows. Whether ownership was conveyed was a principal issue in the case. The assignment document said:
We, Charles and Deborah Shamoon, hereby grant Allen & Lucy Turkow one-half percent ownership in the Ubiquitous Connectivity & Control System for Remote Locations for the sum of $60000.00.
This grant of ownership entitles Allen & Lucy Turkow to one half percent of all the proceeds from the sale of the Ubiquitous Connectivity & Control System for Remote
The Turkows made their investment based on Shamoon’ s representations that he was about to license the invention to General Electric and that he was expecting money from GE in "sixty, ninety, worst case scenario, one hundred and twenty days." He said he was "at the finish line" of the deal.
The Turkows learned of Shamoon through their church, of which Shamoon was also a member. He had sold an interest in the invention to a number of other members of the Living Word Family Church in Raleigh. No doubt there was great expectation of a quick profit on the investment in the patents. Parishioners at the church subscribe to a theology:
that believers who have strong faith and employ wise and moral business practices will be rewarded with spiritual abundance and financial prosperity.
Brf in support of Turkows’ Motion for Summary Judgment at 3. So it looked like a sure thing, with a quick return, but you can guess already that the transaction with GE failed to materialize, and the fallout was a lawsuit.
Ownership of the Patents
Shamoon sued the Turkows because the Turkows were threatening to "assign or grant licenses[s] under the Patents to others" without sharing the proceeds with him. Complaint Par. 11. Shamoon said that he had not sold an ownership interest in the Patents to the Turkows and that the Turkows should be enjoined from their activity.
Could the Turkows have done what Shamoon feared with their teeny half a percent, if they had obtained an assignment of ownership? Yes, because 35 U.S.C. §262 says that a joint owner of a patent "may make, use, offer to sell, or sell the patented invention within the United States, or import the patented invention into the United States, without the consent of and without accounting to the other owners."
Judge Jolly found the agreement to be ambiguous as to the nature of the interest acquired by the Turkows, and denied Shamoon’s motion for summary judgment. Shamoon was seeking a declaratory judgment that the Turkows were not owners of the Patents, but he now faces a trial if he wants that kind of relief.
The Turkows made counterclaims against Shamoon based on the statements he had made regarding the imminent closing of his deal with GE. Those were styled as claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. Summary judgment was denied as to both of those claims, in part because Judge Jolly found a question of fact whether the Turkows could prove reasonable reliance based on the alleged statements about the finality of a deal with GE. The Turkows had argued that their reliance on Turkow was reasonable because they were members of the same church.
Judge Jolly also found a question of fact about whether Shamoon’s statements could be the basis for an unfair and deceptive practices claim. As he put it, the issue was "whether Charles Shamoon’s solicitation of Defendants’ investment was primarily a "capital raising device" or a transaction to produce personal income for Charles Shamoon." Op. ¶57. "Capital raising" can’t be an unfair and deceptive practice, but "personal income raising" can be. So Shamoon is facing a trial on that issue too.
No fruitcakes were eaten during the preparation of this post.