Apple, Inditex, Tolkien Estate: Intellectual Property

a federal judge in Albany, New York, has recused himself from the patent suit against Apple Inc. (AAPL) related to the iPhone 4s’s Siri virtual assistant.

In an Oct. 23 filing, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharp said because of an unspecified interest in Apple, the “objective ‘appearance of impropriety’ standard” required him to excuse himself from the case.

The suit was filed Oct. 19 by Dynamic Advances LLC of Tyler, Texas, which says it is the exclusive licensee to patent 7,177,798. That patent was issued in February 2007 to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York, the oldest technical university in the U.S. According to court papers, the technology was invented by a professor and a graduate student at Rensselaer.

In the original complaint, Dynamic Advances claimed that Siri’s processing of natural-language inputs infringes the patent, which covers “ a method for processing a natural language input provided by a user.”

It asked the court to issue an order barring further infringement and for awards of money damages “in no event less than a reasonable royalty,” litigation costs and attorney fees.

The case is Dynamic Advances LLC v. Apple Inc., 1:12-cv- 01579-GLS-CPH, U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York (Albany).

Safeco Gets Patent on Underwriting Method Using Voting Status

Safeco Insurance Co., a unit of Boston’s Liberty Mutual Holding Co., received a patent on a method of insurance underwriting that uses voting history, according to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Patent 8,285,618, which was issued Oct. 9, covers the inclusion of frequency of voting with factors such as age, gender, driving record, place of employment and residence location to determine a potential customer’s risk profile.

According to the patent, “an increase in voting frequency, such as an instance of recent voting, correlates with a decrease in risk of insurance loss.” Research indicated that a “significant correlation exists between having voted at all and a lower likelihood that the person will claim a loss.”

Another aspect of the patent is a method of adjusting an insurance agent’s commissions based on the voting status of the customers that agent obtains. Potential customers’ applications can be prescreened, based on their voting status, according to the patent.

Safeco applied for the patent in September 2011, with the assistance of Alston & Bird LLP of Atlanta.

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Trademark

Inditex Unit Forces Name Change for Retailer of Kids Products

Inditex SA’s Zara unit demanded an Australian retailer of toys and children’s home furnishings change its name, Australia’s TodayTonight news website reported.

The founder of the Australian store named her business “Aara and Lily” after her daughter and niece, according to TodayTonight.

Zara, a Spanish clothing company, sent the retailer a cease-and-desist latter demanding the company name and its Internet domain name of ZaraandLily.com be changed, TodayTonight reported.

Even though she claims she faces as much as A$15,000 ($15,560) in rebranding costs, store owner Shelly Tilbrook says she’s changing her company name to Peach and Pear Kids, according to the news website.

Tolkien Estate Tells Academic to Stop Using ‘Hobbit’ Description

The estate of the late author JRR Tolkien has told a New Zealand academic he can’t use the word “hobbit” to describe ancient miniature humanoids, 3News New Zealand reported.

Brent Alloway, a volcanologist from Victoria University, was told he couldn’t title his lecture about the ancient humans of Indonesia’s Flores Island “The Other Hobbit,” according to 3News.

He told 3News his fellow scientists had used the term since the Homo florensiensis species was discovered in 2003, at about the same time that Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film was released.

By coincidence, the average height of the Homo florensiensis is 3 feet, 6 inches high, the same height as Tolkien’s Hobbit people, 3News New Zealand reported.

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Copyright

Sony, Northrop Grumman Sued Over William Faulkner Quotations

Sony Pictures Classics Inc. was sued for copyright infringement by the holder of the literary rights to the works by the late William Faulkner.

The suit, filed Oct. 25 in Mississippi federal court, claims lines from Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun” are used incorrectly and without authorization in “Midnight in Paris,” a 2011 Sony film directed by Woody Allen.

According to court papers, a character played by Owen Wilson is transported from the present era to the 1920s, where he has conversations with Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In describing his experiences, the character says “The past is not dead! Actually it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner.”

The correct quote, the Faulkner rights holder said, is “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

According to the complaint, Sony didn’t seek or receive permission to use the lines in the film. Faulkner Literary Rights LLC, which is based in Charlottesville, Virginia, said it’s harmed by Sony’s actions, and that the use of the quote is likely to cause the public to assume falsely that a connection exists between Faulkner and Sony.

It asked the court for an order barring further distribution of the film, together with awards of money damages, litigation costs and attorney fees. Additionally, it seeks an award of profits attributable to the alleged infringement.

Sony told Deadline Hollywood that the suit is frivolous and that its use of Faulkner’s words fell into copyright law’s “fair use’ provision.

A second Faulkner-related suit was filed Oct. 26 in federal court also in Mississippi. In this case, Faulkner Literary Rights sued Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Washington Post over the use of a Faulkner quote in an advertisement that ran in the newspaper July 4, 2011.

That quote, “We must be free, not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it,” is taken from a 1956 Faulkner essay, “On Fear: The South in Labor,” according to court papers. The Faulkner rights holder claims that quote is also used without permission.

The case against Sony is Faulkner Literary Rights LLC v. Sony Pictures Classics Inc., 3:12-cv-00100-MPM-SSA, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi. The case against Northrop Grumman is Faulkner Literary Rights LLC v. Northrop Grumman Corp, 3:12-cv-00732-HTW-LRA, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson).

Electronic Arts Seeks Dismissal of Zynga’s Counterclaims

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), the second-biggest U.S. video-game publisher, asked a federal judge to dismiss a claim by Zynga Inc. (ZNGA) that its copyright infringement lawsuit violates a year-old agreement between the companies.

Electronic Arts filed suit in San Francisco in August, claiming Zynga’s “The Ville” infringes copyrights for “The Sims Social,” an Electronic Arts game that runs on Facebook (FB) Inc.’s social network. Electronic Arts said in its complaint that senior executives who left for Zynga had details about “The Sims Social” strategy and development.

Zynga, the biggest developer of games played on Facebook, countersued last month, seeking to bar Electronic Arts from threatening litigation or interfering with its hiring. It called the copyright claims meritless and said Electronic Arts’ suit breached the terms of last year’s settlement.

According to the Oct. 26 filing by Redwood City, California-based Electronic Arts, the companies arrived at a “confidential settlement” on Sept. 21, 2011, in which Electronic Arts released claims related to Zynga’s recruitment of current or former Electronic Arts employees in exchange for San Francisco-based Zynga’s agreement to not solicit other employees.

Dani Dudeck, a spokeswoman for Zynga, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the Oct. 26 filing.

The settlement only covered claims through September 2011 and the more recent complaint brings copyright claims that fall “far outside” the 2011 agreement, Electronic Arts said today.

Zynga also claimed in its countersuit that Electronic Arts Chief Executive Officer John Riccitiello instructed company lawyers to get an agreement from Zynga prohibiting future hiring of Electronic Arts employees as part of an “anticompetitive and unlawful scheme” that violates California law.

The “litigation privilege” prohibits statements made in connection with legal actions from being used as grounds for a lawsuit, Electronic Arts argued.

“Alleged threats to sue Zynga in connection with its solicitation, recruitment and hiring of Electronic Arts employees were absolutely privileged,” according to the filing.

The case is Electronic Arts v. Zynga, 12-4099, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

For more copyright news, click here.

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.

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