Nestle, USPS, Sony, Bavaria, Sears: Intellectual Property

Denner, a Swiss retailer, said it will resume offering Nespresso-compatible coffeemaker capsules after a local court lifted an injunction against their sale amid a patent dispute with Nestle SA. (NESN)

Denner will need at least three weeks to restart production and stock supermarket shelves, Nicole Schoewel, a spokeswoman based in Zurich, said March 4 by phone. Nestle said it will continue trying in court to halt the sale of the capsules.

“This preliminary ruling is not a ruling on the merits of the case,” Julian Liew, a spokesman for Nestle’s Nespresso unit, said in an e-mail. “We will continue with the legal action to protect our intellectual property rights.”

The court in St. Gallen, Switzerland, halted the capsule sales in January, about a month after Denner, a unit of Swiss retailer Migros, began marketing them. They are made by Alice Allison SA. Sara Lee Corp. and Ethical Coffee Co. also started selling their own versions of coffee for Nespresso machines last year, offering consumers alternative pre-filled capsules for the first time.

Postal Service Sued Over Patent to Handle Returned Mail

The U.S. Postal Service was sued by an Alabama company that claims the agency is using without permission its patented method of processing undeliverable mail.

Return Mail Inc., based in Birmingham, filed the complaint Feb. 28 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, seeking “reasonable and entire compensation” for the use of its invention.

The two sides met “on at least five occasions to discuss licensing the invention,” between 2003 and 2006, and the Postal Service approved a pilot program to process returned and undeliverable mail without striking an agreement over the patent, Return Mail said in the complaint.

“Return Mail invested millions of dollars and spent years developing its innovative and cost-saving system” the company said. “Instead of licensing and paying for the use of Return Mail’s invention, the Postal Service took Return Mail’s invention and used it to create its own address change service called OneCode Address Correction Service.”

The Postal Service has estimated it would save hundreds of millions of dollars from this system, according to Return Mail. The agency had filed a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate the patent. Instead, the patent office issued a certificate confirming the validity of patent 6,826,548 on Jan. 4, Return Mail said.

The patent was issued in November 2004.

The Postal Service, which posted a loss of $329 million in its first quarter ended Dec. 31, is predicting that it will run out of cash by the end of the fiscal year and has cut almost 230,000 employees through attrition since 2000.

The case is Return Mail Inc. v. U.S., 11cv130, U.S. Court of Federal Claims (Washington).

Sony PlayStation 3 Game Consoles Seized by Dutch Customs

Sony Corp. (6758) said some of its PlayStation 3 game consoles were seized by Dutch customs authorities following a patent- infringement complaint lodged by South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc. (066570)

The consoles were seized late last month, said Yasuhiro Okada, a Tokyo-based Sony spokesman, declining to specify the number of consoles taken. Ken Hong, a spokesman at Seoul-based LG, said the company doesn’t comment on pending legal matters.

The move highlights the widening legal feud between the two Asian electronics makers, which compete in products ranging from televisions to mobile phones. Sony’s earnings may be hurt if the injunction continues for more than a month, according to Shiro Mikoshiba, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc.

“If this is resolved within a month or so, Sony can probably avoid an impact by using its products in inventory,” Mikoshiba said.

The Netherlands confiscated thousands of Sony PS3s after LG Electronics won a court injunction over a patent claim, the Financial Times reported March 4, without saying where it got the information.

Sony is considering ways to divert to other shipping points in Europe, according to a person with knowledge of the plan. The Japanese maker is also considering a move to overturn the Dutch ruling, the person said, declining to be identified because the plans haven’t been made public. PS3 consoles are distributed to other parts of Europe from the Netherlands, the person said.

Sony doesn’t disclose regional breakdowns of its PS3 shipments.

Sony, Japan’s biggest exporter of consumer electronics, brought cases in Los Angeles federal court and the International Trade Commission in Washington on Dec. 28 seeking to block LG’s shipments of mobile phones, saying LG handsets use Sony’s technology without permission.

LG, the world’s third-largest maker of mobile phones, on Feb. 4 countered with complaints with the ITC seeking to block sales of Sony Bravia televisions and PS3 consoles, claiming they use LG’s patented technology without permission.

On Feb. 9, Sony filed two separate complaints with the Los Angeles court and the ITC against the South Korean company’s LCD televisions and monitors.

For more patent news, click here.

Trademark

Dutch Brewer Says It Wins Bavaria Trademark Battle in Italy

Bavaria NV, the Netherlands’ second-largest brewer, said it won a legal battle against German producers who sought to prevent it from using trademarks with the name Bavaria for its Dutch beer in Italy.

Trademarks the Lieshout, Netherlands-based company registered in Italy between 1971 and 1995 were declared valid by an appeals court in Turin, Italy, Bavaria said March 4.

The ruling means that “Bavaria can continue to sell in Italy its Bavaria Holland beer with no impediment,” Peer Swinkels, a member of the board of Bavaria, said in an e-mailed statement March 4.

The Italian tribunal’s decision follows a 2009 ruling at the European Union’s highest court stating that the German brewers can’t use EU rules protecting regional food names to challenge the Dutch brewer’s use of the Bavaria brand name, which dates back to 1925.

The case at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg was part of a growing number of battles over so-called geographical indications that protect the branding of food and drink products from a particular region.

The Bavarian brewers’ association, established in the 1880s, has fought to stop the Dutch company selling beer with the name Bavaria. They said the Italian court’s decision was not a straightforward victory for the Dutch company.

The Italian court said that Bavaria will have to show its “trademarks were registered in good faith” and “will have to make sure that they use the name in such a way that consumers won’t be confused” as to the origin of the beer, the German brewers’ spokesman Walter Koenig said by telephone March 4.

EU rules from 2001 that protect regional food and beverage names “must be interpreted as having no adverse effects on the validity” of existing trademarks such as Bavaria, as long as they were registered in good faith, the EU court said in 2009.

The German brewers will examine “very carefully” the way the name Bavaria is used by the Dutch brewer on labels and “may decide to take action,” if it sees possible breaches of the ruling, said Koenig.

Sears Unit Sued by Voss of Norway Over Water Bottle Shape

Lands’ End, the clothing retailer owned by Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) was sued for trademark infringement by a Norwegian exporter of water and water bottles.

Voss of Norway ASA claims Lands’ End’s H2go glass water bottle infringes the trade dress of its cylindrical water bottles, and that the public is confused by the similarity between the two products.

The Oslo-based Norwegian company did acknowledge that the product has been removed from the Lands’ End website. It filed suit because it seeks compensation for what it says is its past injury.

Voss asked the court for an order barring Lands’ End from future sale of products that infringe the Norwegian company’s intellectual property, and mandating the destruction of all infringing products and promotional material.

Additionally, the Norwegian company asked for awards of Dodgeville, Wisconsin-based Lands’ End’s profits derived from the alleged infringement and money damages, and requested both be tripled to punish the retailer for its actions. Voss also asked for attorney fees and litigation costs.

Lands’ End spokeswoman Michele Casper said in an e-mail that her company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Voss is represented by John A. Clifford, Rachel Zimmerman and Heather Kliebenstein of Merchant & Gould PC of Minneapolis.

The case is Voss of Norway ASA v. Lands’ End Direct Merchants Inc., 0:11-cv-00541-JRT-SER, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.

NBC Sued for Infringing ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’ Trademark

Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC Universal and a company owned by one of the women who appears on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” television program were sued for trademark infringement by a comedian who bills himself as “America’s No. 1 Family Comic.”

Jeffrey Mishler, who performs under the name “Jeff Allen,” specializes in “Christian, family-friendly comedy,” he said in the complaint filed March 3 in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.

He said that for years he’s used the signature phrase “Happy Wife, Happy Life” with his comedic observations about married life and parenting.

Mishler, based in Nashville, registered the phrase as a trademark in December 2004. According to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the mark is registered to use for comedy performances, pre-recorded media containing his performances and for clothing, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps.

“The Real Housewives of New Jersey” is a reality program featured on NBC’s Bravo TV cable network. One of the women featured on the program is Teresa Guidice, owner of Fabulicious LLC.

Fabulicious is a co-defendant along with NBC.

Mishler objects to Guidice’s use of “Happy Wife, Happy Life” on television and on the Internet, and to NBC’s sale through its shopbybravo.com Internet store of T-shirts and coffee mugs bearing the phrase.

The comedian claims NBC and Guidice’s company’s use of the phrase damages his business, goodwill, reputation, profit and the strength of his trademark.

He asked the court to bar NBC and Fabulicious from further use of the phrase and for awards of money damages and the defendants’ profit attributable to the alleged infringement. Claiming the infringement is deliberate, he asked that the greater of the damages or the profit be tripled to punish the defendants for what he claims is deliberate infringement.

He also seeks awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

Neither Guidice nor Bravo responded immediately to an e- mailed request for comment.

Mishler is represented by Richard S. Busch of Nashville’s King & Ballow.

The case is Jeffrey Mishler v. NBC Universal LLC, 3:11-00194, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee (Nashville).

For more trademark news, click here.

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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Renault Management Faces Union Pressure Over Spy Investigation

Renault SA (RNO)’s unions said top management at the French carmaker including Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn should be held accountable for a mishandled espionage investigation.

Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata told Le Figaro March 4 he’d “face the consequences” after raising doubts about the findings of an internal probe that led to the dismissal of three executives and a criminal investigation. Renault dismissed the executives in January after its probe concluded they received payments from Chinese companies via foreign accounts.

The affair has “dealt a blow to the credibility of Ghosn and Pelata, who were both directly involved,” said Fabien Gache, a spokesman for CGT, Renault’s biggest union.

French police were informed two of the alleged accounts could not be found, said a person with knowledge of the probe, confirming French media reports. Thus far, police have received no information on a possible third account, the person said, declining to be identified because the investigation is confidential. Police are still waiting for submissions from Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the person said.

The three dismissed managers, upstream development chief Michel Balthazard, his subordinate Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum, the deputy electric-car program chief, have denied the allegations and filed criminal defamation claims.

Renault spokeswoman Caroline De Gezelle declined to comment on the case or whether it may lead to senior resignations.

“A certain number of elements” now suggest that Renault was misled about the foreign accounts, Pelata said in the newspaper interview.

If the company had acted on false information, “we will face the consequences, all the way up to the top of the company -- which means all the way up to me,” Pelata was also quoted as saying. The three fired employees would be offered compensation and reinstatement if vindicated, he added.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde on RMC radio welcomed Pelata’s accountability pledge as a “dignified” gesture.

Ghosn and Pelata should both be held accountable for the botched investigation, a spokesman for the Force Ouvriere union said March 4, declining to be identified in accordance with the organization’s policy.

Renault’s third major union grouping, the centrist CFDT, urged sanctions against “those responsible for these mess- ups,” in an open letter addressed to Ghosn this week.

The Renault CEO said Jan. 23 he had personally overseen the internal probe and its “multiple” findings of espionage by the three executives. “If there were no certainties about this, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” he said on TF1 television.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Slind-Flor in Oakland, California, at vslindflor@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net

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