Software Patents, Redskins, Gaga: Intellectual Property

Software developers can’t get a patent simply for taking an abstract idea and implementing it on a computer, the U.S. Supreme Court said, ruling for the first time in decades on protection for software innovation.

The justices yesterday unanimously rejected a bid to patent a computerized system for limiting the risk that one party to a financial transaction will renege on its obligations. Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the patent improperly covered a “fundamental economic practice.”

The decision may give a new tool to Google Inc. (GOOG) and other companies fighting what they say are frivolous lawsuits over software patents. At the same time, the ruling stopped short of creating special rules restricting software patents.

Dozens of companies took positions in the case. Retailers and Internet businesses including Google and Amazon.com Inc. urged the court to weed out baseless royalty demands, while software makers led by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) said overly strict limits on patents would reduce incentives to develop cutting-edge programs.

The Supreme Court has never directly said that software can be patented, although cases in the 1970s and 1980s involved software-related inventions.

The case is Alice v. CLS Bank International, 13-298.

Gemalto Fails to Persuade Court to Revive Infringement Case

Gemalto NV (GTO), a Dutch company that provides Internet-related security services, had its request to revive a patent case against HTC Corp., Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) rejected by a federal appeals court.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the Washington-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said that a lower court properly determined that the defendant companies’ Android mobile phones didn’t infringe the patents in dispute.

The court said the products didn’t infringe the patents directly or under patent law’s doctrine of equivalents, through which technologies that aren’t identical, but operate in a similar way to that covered by the patent can be found to infringe.

The disputed patents covered a method of using a high-level programming language with a microcontroller.

The case is Gemalto SA v. HTC Corp. (2498), 2013-1297, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington).

The lower court case is Gemalto SA v. HTC Corp., 10-cv-00561, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Tyler).

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Trademark

Redskins Name Follows Madonna Wine to Heap of Trademark Rejects

A ruling that the Washington Redskins’ name is disparaging to American Indians brought swift questions from football fans and small-government conservatives alike: Why is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office deciding what’s appropriate?

Every year, the trademark office considers hundreds of thousands of applications in its efforts to make sure trademarks remain unique in identifying the owner of a product, like Kraft cheese.

Every now and then, the office encounters an application that requires it to exercise its federal mandate to weed out names that may inspire contempt or disrepute. Madonna wine? Old Glory Condoms featuring an American flag? Khoran-brand alcoholic beverages? The office has had a say.

The only standing trademark that the office has recommended canceling, though, is the Redskins’, according to attorney Jesse Witten of Drinker Biddle in Washington. Witten, a onetime George W. Bush appointee to the Justice Department, represented American Indians in the appeal to the trademark office.

The ruling turned on a federal law that requires the office to determine if a trademark “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

For more trademark news, click here.

Copyright

Lady Gaga’s ‘Judas’ Doesn’t Infringe Copyright, Judge Rules

A federal court in Chicago dismissed a copyright suit against Stefani Joanna Germanotta, the pop singer who performs as Lady Gaga.

In his June 17 ruling, U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspin said no reasonable person could find Rebecca Francescatti’s “Juda” and Gaga’s “Judas” songs are “reasonably similar.”

The case is Francescatti v. Germanotta, 1:11-cv-05370, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Eaton, Triumph End Lengthy Litigation Over Trade Secrets

Eaton Corp. (ETN) and Triumph Group settled a 10-year-old trade-secrets dispute, according to a company statements.

The case began in 2004, with Eaton accusing some it its engineers of stealing trade secrets and taking them to the company now known as the Triumph Actuation Systems unit of Triumph Group Inc. (TGI) of Wayne, Pennsylvania. Triumph Actuation Systems, formerly Frisby Aerospace, was also named as a defendant.

Eaton will pay $147.5 million as part of the settlement, the Cleveland, Ohio-based company said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Charles Carter, Peter Blumberg

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