VirnetX, Selfridges, NBCUniversal: Intellectual Property

VirnetX Holding Corp. (VHC) dropped its bid to get a U.S. trade panel to ban imports of the iPhone in March, after winning a $368 million jury verdict over Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s use of patented networking technology without permission.

A U.S. appeals court in January made clear patent owners such as VirnetX that don’t make products can seek to halt imports of foreign-made items. That they have that right has brought Apple together with Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co, its opponents in smartphone patent fights around the world, to lobby Congress to stop companies like VirnetX from using the threat of trade cases to force legal settlements or win royalties.

Patent-licensing companies say such legislation would address a situation that doesn’t exist.

The International Trade Commission, whose mission is to protect the U.S. economy from unfair competition, hasn’t in the past six years issued a single import ban requested by patent owners who didn’t either make products or invent the technology in question, a trial lawyers’ group found.

Eighteen percent of ITC cases during that time were filed by patent licensing companies, according to a June report by the agency.

The ITC Working Group spent $550,000 last year lobbying Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group’s mission is to force patent licensing companies to sue in federal court for relief instead of seeking import bans at the ITC.

The House Judiciary Committee last week held a hearing on curbing “abusive” patent litigation.

District court is the only proper forum for companies like VirnetX, Tanielian said. The threat of a possible import ban is being used to force manufacturers into settling for more than they would normally pay, he said.

Some patent-licensing companies see the push to involve Congress as part of a battle to dilute their rights, which includes efforts to limit software patents and make the loser in a patent case pay the winner, said Matthew Vella, president of Acacia Research Corp. (ACTG), of Newport Beach, California, a licensing company that filed a case against Ericsson AB in January.

Intel in February won a patent-infringement case brought to the ITC by X2Y Attenuators LLC. The case drew the attention of lawmakers from both political parties who said granting X2Y’s request to block Intel chip imports would cost jobs at U.S. plants that do initial manufacturing before products are assembled overseas.

The ITC has issued only three import bans in cases involving patent owners that don’t make products. Each of those owners -- Rambus Inc. (RMBS), Tessera Technologies Inc. (TSRA) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center -- had developed the technology, according to the ITC Trial Lawyers Association.

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Trademark

‘Mr. Selfridge’ TV Success Prompts Trademark Application Filings

Wittington Investments Ltd.’s Selfridges unit has filed an application with the U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office to register “Mr. Selfridge” as a trademark, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.

The choice to seek trademark registration came in the wake of popularity of the “Mr. Selfridge” television program about Harry Selfridge, the American-born founder of the department store chain, according to the Daily Mail.

The program, which began airing in the U.K. in January, brought in upwards of 8 million viewers in that country and will have a second season next year, the newspaper reported.

Selfridges is also applying to register “Mister Selfridge,” according to the Daily Mail.

Loyola Marymount Warned Against Use of ‘CollegeFest’ Mark

Loyola Marymount University of Los Angeles was sent a cease-and-desist letter warning it to quit using “College Fest” as a name for an event set for March 24, the Loyolan, the school’s student newspaper, reported.

CollegeFest Promotions, part of New York’s Mr. Youth LLC marketing organization, said it has used the “CollegeFest” mark for years and threatened legal action if the name use didn’t stop, according to the Loyolan.

The letter alleged that Loyola’s use of “CollegeFest” violated federal trademark laws, the Loyolan reported.

NFL Retirees Reach Settlement With League Over Image Rights

The National Football League and retired players who sued it over the uncompensated use of their likenesses have asked a U.S. judge for preliminary approval of a $50 million settlement.

The accord provides for $42 million to be paid over eight years into a fund for the benefit of retired players, according to papers filed yesterday in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the case was brought. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has scheduled a hearing on the proposal for March 22 in federal court in Fort Myers, Florida.

The lawsuit, accusing the league of trading on the “glory days” of the NFL, was filed in 2009 by six players including former Los Angeles Ram Fred Dryer, Houston Oilers Dante “Dan” Pastorini and Elvin Bethea and the Minnesota Vikings’ Jim Marshall, on behalf of all of their retired colleagues.

The new fund will be overseen by a panel of retired players approved by the court and run separately from the 32-team league and the NFL Players’ Association.

While the bulk of the settlement will be go toward medical research, housing assistance and career transition programs, $8 million will be devoted to the initial operations of the new licensing agency and to litigation costs, according to a settlement information website.

Brian McCarthy, a league spokesman, confirmed the details in an e-mailed statement. The preliminary approval hearing will be held in Fort Myers because Magnuson is on temporary assignment there, McCarthy said.

The case is Dryer v. National Football League, 09-cv-2182, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (St. Paul).

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Copyright

Music File-Sharing Award Left Intact by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a $222,000 award against a Minnesota woman for illegally downloading and sharing songs, leaving intact a victory for the music industry in its anti- piracy campaign.

The justices yesterday turned away an appeal by Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who argued unsuccessfully that the award was so large it violated the Constitution. A federal appeals court upheld the award last year.

The suit against Thomas-Rasset was one of 30,000 filed by the recording industry against alleged copyright infringers from 2003 to 2008. Most of the cases led to settlements, and Thomas- Rasset’s was one of only a handful still being fought in court. Record companies say piracy results in billions of dollars in lost sales.

Thomas-Rasset was sued in 2006 under the U.S. Copyright Act by the country’s largest record labels, including units of Sony Corp. (SNE) and Vivendi SA. (VIV) The lawsuit focused on 24 recordings, though the appeals court pointed to evidence that her account on the Kazaa file-sharing service contained 1,700 recordings.

The case is Thomas-Rasset v. Capitol Records, 12-715.

NBCUniversal Fires Back in Suit Over Military-Mission Show

NBCUniversal Media LLC filed a request for the dismissal of a copyright infringement suit brought by a former New York police officer over its “Stars Earn Stripes” reality show.

In a March 15 filing, the network said that the content Richard Dillon claims is infringed isn’t protected under U.S. copyright law. Many of the elements Dillon says the show infringed were common elements in television programs that were publicly disseminated before Dillon submitted any “treatment” to any of the defendants, according to the NBC filing.

Some of the elements are ubiquitous to reality television, NBC said. The network asked the court to look at Web pages related to a number of existing reality shows, including “Dancing With the Stars,” “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling,” “Celebrity Circus,” “Celebrity Cooking Showdown,” “Skating with Celebrities” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Celebrity Edition.”

Dillon filed the copyright infringement suit in November 2012 in federal court in Los Angeles, objecting to the show, which featured such celebrities as Laila Ali, Nick Lachey and Todd Palin competing to execute “missions” inspired by real military exercises. Each contestant also competed for a cash prize on behalf of a military, veterans or first-responder charity.

The case is Dillon v. NBCUniversal Media LLC, 2:12- cv-097828-SJO-AJW, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

CNN Finds Tech Companies Claim Diversity Stats Are Trade Secret

Time Warner Inc. (TWX)’s Cable News Network’s attempts to report on diversity at major technology companies hit a trade secrets roadblock, the network said on its website.

Of the 20 companies it considered the “most influential U.S. technology companies, only Dell Inc. (DELL), Intel Corp. (INTC) and Ingram Micro Inc. (IM) complied without objections to CNN’s request for information about the gender and ethnic makeup of its workforce, the network said.

CNN then went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said it was legally barred from releasing the information the network sought.

The network then went to the U.S. Department of Labor, which took more than a year to respond to the request and finally said it couldn’t release such details from companies that aren’t federal contractors.

Some of the others -- Apple Inc., Google Inc. (GOOG), Hewlett- Packard Co. (HPQ), International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) -- told the Department of Labor that their data couldn’t be released because it was the kind of trade secret that could cause competitive harm, the network reported.

Nevada Lawmakers Consider Keeping Energy Purchase Costs Secret

A bill has been introduced in Nevada’s legislature to keep secret the prices paid for renewable energy by NV Energy Inc. (NVE), a Las Vegas-based utility company, the Elko Nevada Free Press reported.

All three members of the state’s Public Utility Commission told the Free Press that, the pending legislation notwithstanding, they were in favor of disclosing the prices.

The proposed legislation is a retread of a bill passed in 2011, and vetoed by the state’s governor, according to the newspaper.

That 2011 bill contained a provision that said the pricing information and other elements of a power-purchase contract was a trade secret, according to the Free Press.

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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