United Coffee, Europe’s largest maker of private-label coffee, plans to become the latest challenger to Nestle SA’s Nespresso when it starts selling a capsule system for offices and small bars and restaurants in western Europe.
United Coffee aims to introduce the machines and capsules in about six months, Chief Executive Officer Per Harkjaer said yesterday at a press conference in Geneva, where the company is based.
The company is going ahead even after Nestle’s pursuit of patent-infringement claims against competitors. “In that market, we would be competing head on with Nespresso,” Harkjaer said, making coffee, tea and hot cocoa and selling the capsules at a price similar to Nespresso’s.
“If there were no legal barriers, we’d do it immediately,” Harkjaer said, when asked if United Coffee might make capsules compatible with Nespresso machines. Europeans are increasingly using single-serving coffee systems as the instant coffee market shrinks, Harkjaer said.
In June, French authorities visited plants operated by Ethical Coffee SA’s subcontractors based in the French towns of Chambery and Tarbes, and seized coffee capsules following an infringement complaint by Nestle. Also that month, the company said it was taking legal action against Sara Lee Corp. for patent infringement.
United Coffee has sales of 300 million euros ($399 million) to 400 million euros, and may double in size within four to five years by acquiring small, family owned rivals in Europe, the Danish executive said. In the U.K., United Coffee supplies McDonald’s Corp. with coffee machines and counts retailers Carrefour SA and Lidl among customers.
Founded in 1818, the company is partially owned by London- based private-equity firm CapVest Ltd.
‘Apple Peel’ Inventors Defend Device Turning IPod Into IPhone
Pan Lei and Pan Yong, the Chinese brothers who invented a device to convert Apple Inc.’s iPod Touch into an iPhone, say they are innovators, not copycats. Their invention may touch a nerve with Apple, which seems to be planning a similar device, according to a recently published patent application.
The brothers’ Apple Peel 520 is a case including a circuit board and battery that wraps around the iPod Touch media player, allowing calls to be made after software is installed. The device, which requires breaking into Apple’s operating system, isn’t a counterfeit iPhone, Pan Lei, 25, told Bloomberg Television.
“We’re capable of coming up with something original,” Pan Lei, who quit his job as an interior designer to found Shenzhen, China-based Yosion Technology Co. with his 23-year-old software- engineer brother, said in an interview.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, is seeking a patent on a comparable technology, according to an application published in the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Sept. 16.
Application 20100234051 is for an “accessory transceiver for mobile devices,” and can be used either to “ either provide or enhance wireless communication capabilities provided by the mobile device and/or to use a different communication network, channel, or technology whether wired or wireless than provided by the mobile device.”
Apple applied for the patent in March with assistance from San Francisco’s Townsend & Townsend & Crew LLP.
More than 220 million iPod music players have been sold since it was first released in 2001, according to the company. Apple first released its iPhone in 2007, climbing to 2.7 percent of the global market by June this year and sparking copycat models from Chinese grey market, or Shanzhai, vendors.
“The brothers who invented this Apple Peel probably ran down a list of how many ways could they annoy Steve Jobs,” said Jonathan Hudis, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Trademarks and Unfair Competition Division. “I could not see Apple standing by to let this continue, especially if it results in product shipping into the United States.”
U.S. users can save at least $770 by using the brothers’ device, to be priced at $60. Jill Tan, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Apple, said any product that’s been tampered with won’t receive warranty support. Apple is aware of Apple Peel, she said, declining to comment further.
AstraZeneca Appeals EU Ruling Over Abuse of Patent Position
AstraZeneca Plc appealed to the European Union’s highest court over a decision that it flouted antitrust rules to keep generic competitors off the market.
AstraZeneca is seeking to overturn a lower EU court’s ruling that said it “abused its dominant position” by hindering the marketing of generic copies of its Prilosec heartburn medicine.
The U.K.’s second-largest drugmaker is challenging the decision “on several grounds,” including whether there was an abuse of its market power, the London-based company said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
AstraZeneca, its bigger U.K. rival GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Sanofi-Aventis SA are among companies the Brussels-based European Commission has queried as part of an antitrust probe into tactics to keep copies of their medicines off the market.
The EU’s General Court in July upheld the commission’s 2005 decision to fine AstraZeneca for abuse of its dominance, although the tribunal cut the fine by the region’s antitrust regulator from 60 million euros ($80 million) to 52.5 million euros.
“We were disappointed with the General Court’s judgment overall, although pleased that the General Court annulled the commission’s decision in respect of Denmark and Norway for the second abuse,” AstraZeneca said in the statement.
AstraZeneca was able to keep generic versions of its ulcer drug off the market between 1993 and 2000, the commission had said after a six-year investigation that led to the court cases.
The case is C-457/10 P Pending Case, AstraZeneca v Commission.
Finnish Government Proposes Signing London Treaty on Patents
Finland’s government proposed signing the London Treaty on patents to reduce costs related to obtaining a patent, the Helsinki-based government said in an e-mailed statement.
Finland’s parliament must discuss and ratify the proposal before it is carried out.
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Google Says It Wins Spanish Case Over YouTube Copyright Breach
Google Inc., owner of the most popular search engine, said it won a case in Spain over claims its YouTube video service was liable for copyright violations.
Telecinco, a unit of Mediaset SpA and Spain’s largest commercial television station, lost the suit because the court decided YouTube offers companies whose copyright was breached the opportunity to have any infringing content removed. The responsibility doesn’t lie with YouTube, Google said.
“This decision demonstrates the wisdom of European laws,” said Google on the blog. “More than 24 hours of video are loaded onto YouTube every minute. If Internet sites had to screen all videos, photos and text before allowing them on a website,” sites including Twitter and Facebook “would grind to a halt.”
Telecinco representatives couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
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Johanna Seeks Declaration It Doesn’t Infringe Coca-Cola Marks
A New Jersey-based food-packaging company asked a federal court to declare its fruit-juice packaging doesn’t infringe Coca-Cola Co.’s trademarks.
Johanna Foods, of Flemington, New Jersey, filed suit in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, on Sept. 21, requesting a determination it isn’t infringing the trade dress and design patents covering the packaging for Coca-Cola’s Simply Orange brand juices.
The company said in its complaint that it received a letter from Coca-Cola’s counsel in December, warning that other companies using carafe-shaped container designs for their juices had been sued.
The shape to which the Atlanta-based company objected is “substantially similar” to the shape of a bottle Johanna uses with its Nature’s Nectar and Tree Ripe lines, according to court papers. Johanna told the court that the labels are different from those for the Coca-Cola products, and it disputes the contention that the design serves as an “indicator of origin” protected by trademark law.
Johanna told the court it’s been threatened with infringement litigation and said the container shape is mostly functional and cannot therefore be inherently distinctive. The company also argued that consumers aren’t likely to be confused by its use of the container.
In addition to a declaration that it isn’t infringing either the trademark or patents associated with the container, Johanna asked for awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.
The case is Johanna Foods Inc., v. Coca-Cola Co., 3:10-cv- 04844-JAP-0DEA, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).
Smart Blocks Asks Court to Force Lego to Approve Release
Lego A/S, Europe’s biggest toymaker, was sued by a California maker of construction toys who asked a federal court in San Diego to declare it isn’t infringing the Danish company’s trademarks.
Smart Blocks Inc., of San Marcos, California, makes sets of “talking” building blocks with six internal depressible pins. The construction toys come in seven colors representing various themes, according to the complaint filed yesterday.
The company had a shipment worth $200,000 blocked by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port in California in July. It was told the shipment was detained because “there is a trademark issue with Lego,” according to court papers.
Smart Blocks said it spent the next two months trying to no avail to get the shipment released. As a result, it’s had to push back its release date and pay “thousands of dollars” for Customs’ detention and storage of the blocks. Smart Blocks says it has a “very limited supply” of product on hand to fulfill orders and further delays in receiving the shipment will lead to its “bankruptcy or similar financial demise.”
Lego objects that the packaging infringes its trademarks, Smart Blocks said. Smart Blocks “vehemently denies” that its packaging, containers or container lids infringe. Earlier this month Lego lost a court challenge seeking European Union-wide trademark rights for the shape of its toy bricks.
Smart Blocks asked the court to declare that its packaging and products don’t infringe the Lego trademarks, and for an order barring further assertions from Lego that it does infringe. Smart Blocks also seeks an order requiring Lego to consent to the importation and release of the Smart Blocks products, and the cancellation of several Lego trademarks on the grounds that they are generic or otherwise invalid.
The company also asked for money damages, extra damages to punish Lego for its conduct, and for awards for attorney fees and litigation costs.
Smart Blocks is represented by Jon E. Maki of San Diego.
The case is Smart Blocks Inc., v. Lego Juris A/S, 3:10-cv- 01989-WQH-JMa, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).
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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage
Corporate Secret, Trademark Lawsuits Soared in U.K. Last Year
Lawsuits to shield corporate secrets more than quadrupled in London last year and trademark cases rose 20 percent as more companies sought to protect intellectual property during the economic slowdown.
Disputes over trade secrets at the High Court increased from 23 two years ago to 95 last year, while intellectual- property cases overall rose 37 percent, the U.K. Ministry of Justice said yesterday. Patent cases rose 17 percent.
“Protecting IP becomes more, rather than less, important in a downturn,” said Karen Seward, a lawyer at Allen & Overy LLP in London, in an interview yesterday. “Employees are increasingly leveraging their value in the marketplace by trying to take valuable information with them when they go to new jobs.”
Intellectual-property lawsuits doubled during the past five years to account for 16 percent of all cases, the ministry report said. Last year, cases included Diageo Plc’s lawsuit against grocer J Sainsbury Plc over the Pimm’s drink label and Pernod Ricard SA’s case against Absolute Radio to protect the Absolut vodka trademark.
Eighty percent of a company’s commercial value resides in intellectual property, requiring additional protection during economic declines, said Thayne Forbes, a director at consulting firm Intangible Business in London.
“These latest statistics show that brand owners are more prepared than ever to take their battle all the way to the courts to protect the value sitting in their intangible assets,” Forbes said in a statement.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at email@example.com.