The French government is weighing options including an investment in Alcatel-Lucent SA (ALU) as it looks to protect the unprofitable network equipment maker’s patents, people with knowledge of the deliberations said.
Taking a minority stake in Alcatel-Lucent, potentially through the Fonds Strategique d’Investissement state vehicle, is among alternatives being considered by the French administration, said a government official, who asked not to be identified as he wasn’t authorized to be cited by the media. Such a move would give France more influence at the company after a 2 billion-euro ($2.6 billion) financing deal criticized by officials, other people familiar with the matter said.
The French government has been considering options for Alcatel-Lucent since the December announcement of the loan, underwritten by Credit Suisse (CSGN) Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), that’s secured in part by the manufacturer’s intellectual property portfolio, the people said.
Other plans that have been considered by officials include encouraging a merger between Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent and rival Nokia Siemens Networks, or an investment in Alcatel- Lucent’s undersea cable business, said the people.
The state may ultimately decide not to take a stake in the company or intervene, the people said. Alcatel-Lucent announced Feb. 22 that Michel Combes, a former Vodafone Group Plc executive, will replace Chief Executive Officer Ben Verwaayen, who stepped down this month after a three-year turnaround plan failed to return the company to profit. The selection of a new Alcatel CEO may help speed a government decision, people familiar with the situation have said.
A government investment in Alcatel-Lucent would be a new chapter in the history of a onetime French industrial giant, with former operations ranging from spaceflight to cutting-edge theoretical physics, that’s been weakened by Asian competition and slower spending on network equipment by mobile carriers.
The FSI, which acquires minority stakes in companies it deems crucial to France’s competitiveness, has invested in businesses such as smartcard manufacturer Gemalto NV (GTO) and Nexans SA (NEX), a supplier of power and fiber-optic cables.
A spokesman for the French finance ministry declined to comment. Representatives of Alcatel-Lucent, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs declined to comment. A representative of the FSI couldn’t immediately comment.
Apple Seeks Patent for ‘Slap Bracelet’ Wearable Video Device
Apple Inc. (AAPL), maker of the iPhone and iPad, has applied for a patent on a video-display device that is part of a so-called slap bracelet.
According to application 20130044215, published in the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Feb. 21, the device would have a flexible display coupled to a bi-stable spring.
The Cupertino, California-based company explained in the application that this spring, commonly called a “slap bracelet” is typically nine inches long and about one inch wide. It is normally flat, but when slapped across a wrist, it will curl around the wrist and stay relatively stable.
Most conventional accessories for electronic devices “are not easily wearable,” Apple said. They typically involve clips “or may even rest precariously on an ear” or “have to sit in a pant or coat pocket.”
The device covered by the application would “capitalize on the easily wearable nature of a bi-stable spring,” Apple said.
Apple filed the application for the patent in August 2011.
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Google May Clinch EU Settlement After ‘Summer,’ Almunia Says
Google Inc. (GOOG) may reach a settlement of a European Union probe into its search business in the second half of the year, the bloc’s antitrust chief said Feb. 22.
Joaquin Almunia said he may be able to start checking Google’s January settlement offer with rivals and customers “in the coming months” after officials finish analyzing what Google has put forward. If that process ends without a hitch, the EU could make Google’s offer legally binding and drop possible fines for the operator of the world’s largest search engine.
“We could have an accord after the summer vacations, if this all works,” he said. “That would be my favorite solution, but it doesn’t depend on me.”
Google submitted a settlement proposal to EU regulators after it was asked to address allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search-services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.
Almunia said Feb. 22 that he has received further complaints against the company and that he hasn’t yet decided whether to formally investigate them. Android, Google’s operating system for mobile phones and tablets, is among other things that regulators are examining, he said.
Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said the company continued to work cooperatively with the commission.
Almunia, the EU’s top antitrust official, declined to say whether a separate investigation of the use of patent injunctions by Google’s Motorola Mobility unit may also be settled.
He previously said the situation in Europe “is not the same” as in the U.S., where Mountain View, California-based Google agreed to lift court injunctions to settle allegations that it violated agreements to license key technology to rivals.
An EU settlement avoids any decision on whether a company broke antitrust rules. Companies can be fined as much as 10 percent of their yearly revenue if they break the terms of a legally binding settlement. Almunia first told Google in May that he wanted to settle the case.
The U.S. ended an investigation into Google’s search business last month, saying there was no evidence that the company’s actions harmed consumers.
In 2010, the EU began investigating claims Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting competitors’ ads. While Microsoft 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 in 2011, citing data from regulators.
Lions Gate ‘50/50’ Infringement Ruling Upheld by Appeals Court
Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. (LGF), a film producer based in Santa Monica, California, persuaded a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of a trademark-infringement suit.
Eastland Music Group LLC sued Lions Gate in federal court in Chicago in November 2011, claiming the trademark “Phifty- 50” used by its rap duo of the same name was infringed by Lions Gate’s 2011 “50/50” film about a young man with a rare form of cancer.
The case was dismissed in July, after which Eastland filed an appeal.
In its Feb. 21 ruling, the appeals court said that the case had been properly dismissed. The court said that the music company had failed to demonstrate that any potential customer was confused by the alleged similarity between the names. The court also said that “Phifty-50” could be registered as a U.S. trademark only because it was a made-up name sounding like a familiar phrase -- 50/50 -- which “in ordinary usage is suggestive or descriptive.”
The phrase “50/50” has been in use in intellectual property for a long time, the court said, noting that at least eight films and at least three pop songs have been produced with that title.
“Phifty-50 entered a crowded field and its rights are correspondingly weak and narrow,” the court said.
The lower court case is Eastland Music Group LLC v. Lionsgate Entertainment Inc., 1:11-cv-08224, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The appeal is Eastland Music Group LLC v. Lionsgate Entertainment Inc., 12- 2928, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).
South Africa Agencies Seek Block to ‘Rooibos’ Trademark in EU
South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, together with several other government agencies, is objecting to a French company’s attempt to register “South Africa Rooibos” and Roobibos” as trademarks, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian reported.
Rooibos, a tea made from leaves of an indigenous South African shrub, is consumed for its supposed health benefits, including the prevention of cancer and heart disease, according to the newspaper.
The government agencies have complained to the European Union delegation in Praetoria and the French Embassy in South Africa, saying local rooibos producers’ marketing efforts overseas would be harmed if the French company had exclusive rights to the mark, the Mail & Guardian reported.
“Rooibos” already enjoys protected trademark status in South Africa, according to the newspaper.
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Fox’s ‘Touch’ TV Program Didn’t Infringe Novel, Court Rules
News Corp (NWSA)’s Fox Entertainment Group didn’t infringe the copyright to a novel about an autistic child, a federal judge has ruled.
Everette Hallford sued Fox in federal court in Manhattan in March, claiming the television producer’s “Touch” program starring Kiefer Sutherland infringed his screenplay “Prodigy.”
He said there were too many similarities between the two works, both of which were about a child with singular abilities that accompanied their disabilities, and that his novel was “willfully and intentionally” copied.
He asked for an order barring further infringement, including the production and broadcast of “Touch,” together with awards of money damages, profits Fox realized from the alleged infringement, attorney fees and litigation costs.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III found no infringement, and said that many of the claimed similarities between the two works wouldn’t be recognized by “the average lay observer -- no matter how discerning.”
In dismissing the infringement complaint, the court said the plot and sequence of the two works are substantially different, as well as the characters, setting and pace, and total concept and feel.
The case is Everette Hallford V. Fox Entertainment Group Inc., 1:12-cv-01806-WHP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage
Ocean Tomo Adds Trade-Secret Management, Monetization Practice
Ocean Tomo LLC, the Chicago-based financial services company known for its intellectual property auctions, has expanded its practice to cover trade-secret management and monetization.
The company said its specialty service aimed at non-patent intellectual property was developed in response to an increase in trade secret-related litigation in courts and before the U.S. International Trade Commission, together with President Barack Obama’s Jan. 14 signing of the Foreign and Economic Espionage Penalty Enhancement Act of 2012.
The Ocean Tomo trade-secrets practice will cover litigation damages, strategic planning, investment due diligence, risk management, valuation and transactions.
The practice is headed by Dean A. Pelletier, who joins from Chicago’s McAndrews Held & Malloy Ltd. There his practice focused on trade-secret litigation and client counseling.
Ocean Tomo said in a statement that in 2012, its clients earned payments or were awarded damages for trade-secret misappropriation as high as $75 million.
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