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Monsanto, Metso, Taser, Bizcloud: Intellectual Property

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to let organic farmers and seed sellers challenge Monsanto Co. (MON)’s patents on genetically modified seeds.

The justices yesterday left intact a federal appeals court decision that threw out a lawsuit against Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company. The lower court pointed to Monsanto’s promise not to sue farmers whose crops contain traces of Monsanto’s biotechnology products.

Monsanto has filed more than 140 lawsuits against farmers for planting the company’s seeds without paying royalties and settled 700 other cases without suing. In the case acted on yesterday, the farmers and seed dealers sought to take pre-emptive action to ensure they wouldn’t be sued in the event their corn, soybeans and other crops were contaminated by Monsanto seeds.

The farmers argued that Monsanto’s promise is inadequate because it applies only to contamination up to 1 percent. Monsanto, saying the farmers have no reason fear a lawsuit, urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal without a hearing.

The case is Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association v. Monsanto, 13-303.

Metso Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court on $32 Million Terex Award

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to revive a $31.6 million patent-infringement award won by a Metso Oyj (MEO1V) unit in a suit against Terex Corp. (TEX) over a machine that sorts rocks and gravel.

The high court yesterday turned away an appeal by Metso Minerals Inc. of a lower court ruling that threw out the jury verdict in the company’s favor. The lower court said Metso’s patent covered an obvious variation of existing machinery.

Helsinki-based Metso makes paper machines in addition to rock crushers. Terex is a Westport, Connecticut-based maker of cranes and lifts.

The case is Metso v. Powerscreen International, 13-565.

Taser International Awarded $2.38 Million in Patent Case

Taser International Inc. (TASR), a maker of stun-weapons for police and the military, was awarded $2.38 million in damages from Karbon Arms LLC for infringement of three patents, avoiding a trial set to start yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews in Wilmington, Delaware, signed an order agreed to by both companies that said Tampa, Florida-based Karbon Arms infringed and Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taser deserved the award and a permanent injunction blocking sales of the Karbon MPID weapon.

“The parties desire to avoid a trial,” Andrews wrote in his order. Karbon Arms waived the right to appeal,

Taser said Jan. 8 it received multiple orders in the last quarter from police in Georgia, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, California and other states. The company contends it has saved more than 118,000 lives from use of the non-lethal weapons.

Steve Tuttle, a Taser spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the case. Nobody was immediately available at Karbon Arms to comment. Pilar Kraman, an attorney for Karbon Arms, didn’t immediately return an e-mail.

The case is Taser International v. Karbon Arms, 11-cv-00426, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

For more patent news, click here.

Trademark

Bizcloud Files Infringement Suit Against 30 Defendants

Bizcloud Inc., a California-based marketing agency, sued five named and 25 unnamed defendants, accusing them of making unauthorized use of the company’s trademark.

According to the infringement complaint filed Jan. 10 in federal court in San Francisco, Bizcloud started using the term in early 2009 to promote cloud computing to its customers.

The defendants -- which include Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), AT&T Inc. (T), Computer Sciences Corp., VM Ware Inc. (VMW) and EMC Corp. (EMC) -- used the mark without permission to promote products and services, Bizcloud said.

The company said the public is confused by the defendants’ actions and will probably assume falsely that a connection exists between them and Bizcloud.

It asked the court to order the defendants to halt infringing actions, to surrender for destruction of all infringing promotional materials, and for awards of profits attributable to the defendants’ alleged infringement.

Bizcloud also asked for awards of attorney fees, litigation costs and money damages, and requested that the damages award be tripled to punish the defendants for their actions.

The case is Bizcloud Inc. v. Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), 14-cv-00162, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

For more trademark news, click here.

Copyright

Hookah Design Not Protected, U.S. Appeals Court Rules

The design of a hookah -- a water pipe used for smoking -- is not protectable by copyright, a federal appeals court ruled.

Inhale Inc., a California designer and seller of hookahs, sued Starbuzz Inc. of Anaheim, California, in federal court in Los Angeles for copyright infringement in May 2011. Inhale claimed that Starbuzz, a former customer, began importing hookahs from China that infringed the design of the Inhale products. The Starbuzz hookahs were confusingly similar to Inhale’s, the company said in its pleadings.

The trial court agreed with Starbuzz that the design wasn’t protected by copyright law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the lower court ruled properly.

The case addressed the shape of the hookah, which the appeals court found was related to the smoking device’s utilitarian function. It said that when Inhale registered the design with the U.S. Copyright Office, the application included the skull and crossbones images on the hookah. The appeals court said that because of this inclusion, although the copyright was registered, the registration wasn’t based on the shape.

The lower court’s $111,933 attorney-fee award to Starbuzz was also appropriate, the appeals court said. It also awarded Starbuzz attorney fees for the appeal, with the amount to be determined by the trial court.

The case is Inhale Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco Inc., 12-562231, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The lower court case is Inhale Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco, 11-cv-03838, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For more copyright news, click here.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Slind-Flor in San Francisco at vslindflor@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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