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Decided: June 23, 2015

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s award of summary judgment to Defendant, Lessard Inc., on the basis that no reasonable jury could find that the two apartment designs at issue were similar.  

Plaintiff, Humphreys & Partners Architects (HPA), is an architecture firm that designed a high-rise residential tower known as Grant Park in 2001. In 2003, HPA registered the Grant Park design as an architectural work with the United States Copyright Office. The Grant Park building was constructed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2004. In 2008, Sixth Penrose Investing Co. began developing a high-rise apartment building called Two Park Crest in McLean, Virginia and solicited design proposals from HPA and Defendant, Lessard. Penrose chose Lessard to design the Two Park Crest Project.

HPA filed this action alleging one count of copyright infringement against Lessard. Lessard argued that they did not copy the Grant Park design and that the two designs are not substantially similar. HPA supported its claim with an expert, who identified nine characteristics that are shared by both designs. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment because there was no direct evidence of copying and no reasonable jury could find that the Grant Park and Two Park Crest designs are objectively similar.

The Fourth Circuit agreed that HPA failed to carry its burden of identifying a specific similarity between the Two Park Crest design and the protected elements of its Grant Park design. The evidence merely showed that the two apartments incorporate nine of the same concepts, but it does not establish that the two designs have a similar overall form, or that the designs arrange or compose elements and spaces in a similar manner.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Full Opinion

Meredith Weisler