Pfizer, WIPO, WTO, Google, Megaupload: Intellectual Property

Pfizer Inc. (PFE), the world’s largest drugmaker, sued a unit of Johnson & Johnson, contending it infringes its U.S. patent 5,918,590, which covers pain-relieving heat-patch technology.

Pfizer, based in New York, is seeking unspecified damages after a jury trial and a halt to sales of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based McNeil-PPC’s Precise-brand patch, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Delaware yesterday.

“McNeil was aware of the patent” because its number “is clearly marked on the packaging of Thermacare, Pfizer’s competing heat-wrap product,” Pfizer lawyers allege.

Pfizer, with $67.4 billion in sales last year, also makes Lipitor for cholesterol control. Last month, Pfizer and Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. (RBXY) were sued in an antitrust case in New York alleging the drugmakers engaged in an anti-competitive scheme to delay generic Lipitor into the market.

Seema Kumar, a Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) spokeswoman, couldn’t immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Pfizer v. McNeil-PPC, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

WIPO Says PCT Patent Filings Up, With ZTE Corp. in the Lead

International patent filings under a treaty administered by a United Nations agency increased 10.7 percent over the previous year, the World Intellectual Property Organization said in a statement yesterday.

A record 181,900 applications were filed in 2011, WIPO said. China, Japan and the U.S. accounted for 82 percent of the increase in filings. Applications are filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which facilitates the process of seeking patent protection in multiple countries.

ZTE Corp. (000063), a Chinese maker of video-conferencing systems, was the leading filer, followed, in order, by Panasonic Corp. (6752), Huawei Technologies Co., Sharp Corp. (6753) and Robert Bosch GmbH (RBOS). Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) was the leading U.S.-based applicant.

The University of California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were among the top 100 filers, according to WIPO data.

Digital communications technology accounted for 7.1 percent of the published applications, followed by electronic machinery, medical technology and computer technology.

While many countries were the source of hundreds or thousands of applications, others filed very few or even no applications, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Jordan and Myanmar.

For more patent news, click here.

Trademark

Australia Said to Face WTO Complaint Over Ban on Tobacco Logos

Australia may face a complaint at the World Trade Organization over its decision to ban trademarks and logos on tobacco products, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The complaint, which says the plain-packaging law violates global intellectual-property rules, will probably be lodged with the Geneva-based trade arbiter this month, as soon as this week, said one person.

Australia is the first country to require identical cigarette packaging. As of Dec. 1, 2012, cigarettes there will have to be sold in dark brown packets, with no company logos or images and the same font for all brands. Imperial Tobacco Group Plc (IMP), British American Tobacco Plc (BATS) and Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914) are among companies that have challenged the law, which Australia is extending to include cigars and loose-leaf tobacco products.

The law violates “several provisions” of agreements protecting intellectual-property rights, Ukraine said at a Feb. 28 WTO meeting on the matter

Countries including Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe also say the Australian ban breaks trade rules. They have challenged Australia’s scientific evidence and said the law will unnecessarily restrict commerce because the country’s public- health goal can be met by other means.

The missions of Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria in Geneva didn’t return calls or declined to comment.

Australia said at the Feb. 28 WTO meeting that it had “comprehensively responded to all the claims made by the Dominican Republic and others.”

The rule is “not anti-trade, it’s anti-cancer,” Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson said in an e-mailed statement yesterday in Canberra. “It’s in the public-health interests of the Australian people and the Gillard government will never give up on Australia’s sovereign right to look after the health of its people.”

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first international treaty aimed at cutting tobacco use, includes provisions on non-pricing measures to lower demand, including regulations on packaging and labeling.

While the treaty doesn’t specifically address the use of trademarked brands or logos, it requires signatories to ensure that packaging and labeling don’t promote a tobacco product by “any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, health effects, hazards or emissions.”

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said on Nov. 23 that major tobacco companies were harassing governments including Australia, Norway and Uruguay in a bid to overturn cigarette package-labeling rules.

The European Union is also considering plain packaging for tobacco products.

EU to Decide on Future of Google Antitrust Probe Next Month

European Union regulators must decide next month on the future of their antitrust probe into Google Inc. (GOOG), the region’s competition commissioner said.

Joaquin Almunia said investigators still must define their objections and clarify concerns over the world’s largest search engine. Last year he said that the probe focused on whether the company is a gate keeper to the Internet that can influence users’ behavior.

“Next month I will have to decide how to continue this investigation,” Almunia said in an interview with Bloomberg HT television. “First we have to define our objections. We need to clarify” the concerns “after a year-and-a-half of complex investigation. And we will communicate these to Google and we’ll see what happens.”

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is under growing pressure from global antitrust agencies probing whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. While Microsoft Corp. and partner Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) have about a quarter of the U.S. Web-search market, Google has almost 95 percent of the traffic in Europe, Microsoft said in a blog post last year, citing data from regulators.

The EU is investigating claims Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting rival ads. Microsoft and shopping-comparison site Foundem are among companies that asked for a review of Google’s actions.

Investigators should report to Almunia at the end of March or the beginning of April on the status of the “very difficult and complex investigation,” he said.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said the company continues “to work closely and cooperatively with the European commission to explain how our business works.”

For more trademark news, click here.

Copyright

U.S. Files Formal Request With New Zealand to Extradite Dotcom

The U.S. government has formally asked New Zealand to extradite Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom, who was indicted in Virginia on charges of involvement in the country’s biggest copyright infringement conspiracy.

The extradition papers for Dotcom; Finn Batato, the chief marketing officer at Megaupload; Mathias Ortmann, co-founder and director of the file-sharing website; and Bram van der Kolk, who oversaw programming at the website, were received at the North Shore District Court near Auckland on March 2, said Magila Annandale, a New Zealand Ministry of Justice spokeswoman.

Dotcom ran a “Mega Conspiracy,” U.S. prosecutors said in a Feb. 17 revised indictment filed in a court in Alexandria, Virginia, accusing him of generating more than $175 million in criminal proceeds from the exchange of pirated film, music, book and software files. He faces as long as 20 years in prison for each of the racketeering and money-laundering charges in the indictment.

The U.S. extradition papers weren’t immediately available from the North Shore District Court. A judge has to approve requests from people not involved in the case for access to files after receiving a written application and obtaining views of all parties in the matter, Annandale said in an e-mail yesterday.

Dotcom, 38, was also charged in the U.S. with five counts of criminal copyright infringement and five counts of wire fraud. The defendant, who legally changed his family name from Schmitz, has denied any criminal misconduct.

He was released from jail on Feb. 22 over objections from the U.S., after Judge N.R. Dawson ruled he wasn’t a flight risk. Dotcom is restricted to his rented $18 million mansion and subject to electronic monitoring, according to the bail conditions.

An extradition hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 20.

For copyright news, click here.

IP Talk

China Proposes Certifying Professionals as Lawyers, Xinhua Says

China’s State Council is seeking public feedback on a proposed law that will allow some professionals to apply to become lawyers, Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Cabinet’s Legislative Affairs Office.

Professionals with bachelor’s degrees and at least 15 years’ experience in international trade, intellectual property rights, finance, environmental protection, high technology, journalism or medical accidents will be eligible under the proposed law, the official news service reported.

In 1980, Chinese government regulations defined lawyers as “state legal workers,” and were regarded as civil servants working in legal advisory officers.

It took another 15 years for understanding of the legal profession to evolve to the point at which a 1996 Chinese law defined them as “professionals providing legal service to society,” according to a 2003 doctoral dissertation by Professor Ethan Michelson, a social scientist at the University of Indiana. By the end of 2002, Beijing had no more state-owned law offices, Michelson said in his dissertation.

In an essay published in 2010 by the Brookings Institution, Michelson noted that the legal profession has grown dramatically, from only a few thousand in 1979 to almost 150,000 by 2007.

In a survey he conducted in 2009, whose results are published in the essay, Michelson said of the more than 2,600 who responded, 9 percent reported incomes above $73,000, with five reporting annual incomes in excess of $1.5 million.

Some of the lawyers who responded to his survey had only junior-college degrees, although most had at least an undergraduate degree. Their incomes were relative to the amount of education they received.

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: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.