Fla. Supreme Court sides with Florida Virtual School in K12 trademark case

Florida Virtual School has the authority to sue to protect its trademarks, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The decision is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle between FLVS and online education company K12, Inc., Florida’s two largest players in online education.

FLVS sued its rival provider for trademark infringement in 2011.

The suit argues K12 used names like Florida Virtual Academy and Florida Virtual Program, which were too similar to Florida Virtual School and caused “confusion” in the online education marketplace. As noted in this summary of the case by Education Week, however, K12 uses the name “virtual academy” in other states.

K12 argued the state virtual school did not have the authority to sue to protect its trademarks, since Florida law gives that authority to the Department of State. A federal appeals court asked the state Supreme Court to resolve that issue.

In Thursday’s unanimous opinion, justices said Florida Virtual School has the power to sue to protect its trademarks and other intellectual property because, unlike some other government entities, state law gives FLVS all the powers of a corporation.

The opinion by Justice R. Fred Lewis added:

Furthermore, when viewed in the historical context, it is logical and consistent to conclude that the Legislature chose to grant broad powers to the school. When the Florida Virtual School was designated as a public agency in 2000 (under the name “Florida On-Line High School”), ch. 2000-224, § 1, Laws of Fla., the board of trustees was charged with the development and delivery of a relatively new form of education—online and distance learning. The enabling statute currently provides: “The board of trustees shall be responsible for the Florida Virtual School’s development of a state-of-the-art technology-based education delivery system that is cost-effective, educationally sound, marketable,and capable of sustaining a self-sufficient delivery system through the Florida Education Finance Program.” § 1002.37(2)(b), Fla. Stat. (emphasis supplied). Thus, the Florida Legislature recognizes that the board of trustees for the school continues to be involved in the implementation of a cutting-edge, online educational program.

The Legislature reasonably could have concluded that the trustees would possess a level of expertise beyond that of the DOS with respect to the development of the technology for the Florida Virtual School. Thus, the board of trustees would be better suited to monitor the use of this State-owned intellectual property and safeguard it against infringement.

The ruling only clarifies that Florida Virtual School is able to bring the suit. The case now heads back to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.