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Unilever, Sears, Time Warner: Intellectual Property

Unilever NV, the world’s second-biggest consumer goods maker, and Syngenta AG are challenging the validity of European patents on breeding processes for tomatoes and broccoli at a hearing that attracted about 150 demonstrators.

The hearing, which began yesterday at the European Patent Office, will establish the validity of patents on breeding vegetables. A unit of Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta and Unilever, based in London and Rotterdam, challenged the patents as invalid because they cover a biological rather than technical process.

Farmers and representatives from Greenpeace were among those protesting against the patents outside the Munich office yesterday. Patents that cover vegetables should never have been granted and must be stopped, Greenpeace said in a statement.

Failure to do so would lead to “rising prices for farmers and consumers” because fewer companies would control food production, Christoph Then, a patent consultant for Greenpeace, said in the statement.

The cases “will decide to what extent the patents can be maintained,” Rainer Osterwalder, a spokesman for the patent office, said by telephone. “The patents will remain valid until there’s a final decision, which we expect by the end of this year.”

In 2003, Syngenta filed its challenge against the patent U.K.-based Plant Bioscience Ltd. got a year earlier on a breeding process for broccoli plants. Unilever in 2004 opposed a patent granted to the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture for a method for breeding tomatoes, according to the patent office.

While Syngenta backs patent protection for new breeding methods that respect the law, the company doesn’t support patents on methods that already exist.

“We originally filed an opposition to the ‘broccoli patent’ because we did not believe the requirements of patentability were met,” Syngenta said in an e-mailed statement. “Our opposition was in relation to this very specific patent application.”

Unilever spokesman Flip Doetsch said in an e-mail he had no comment at this stage.

A European patent is the easiest way for companies at the moment to get patent protection across several countries at once. The European Patent Office isn’t part of the European Union.

The European Commission, the executive agency for the 27-nation region, earlier this month presented plans to create patents to cover the whole EU. Similar plans for EU-wide patents have failed in the past over language issues.

Sears Among Retailers Sued for Infringing Lighted Cap Patent

Sears Holding Corp.’s Orchard Supply Hardware Unit, Eddie Bauer Holdings Inc.’s Eddie Bauer stores, Totes Isotoner Corp. and two other retailers were sued for patent infringement by an Illinois patent-holder.

Waters Industries Inc., of West Dundee, Illinois, claims its newly issued patent 7,753,547 is infringed by a variety of caps with LED lights sold by the defendants. The patent, issued July 13, is for a technology for hands-free lighting with a guard to prevent accidental activation of the light.

The Illinois company asked the court to order the defendants to quit infringing the patent, and for awards of money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

Waters Industries is represented by Timothy P. Maloney, Steven C. Schroer, Mark A. Borsos and Calista J. Mitchell from Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery, and Vince L. Liebman and Glenn A. Rice from Funkhouser, Verosen, Liebman & Dunn Ltd., all of Chicago.

The case is Waters Industries Inc., v. Totes Isotoner Corp., 1:10-cv-04487, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

Danisco Sues Novozymes in London Court Over Enzyme Patent

Danisco A/S filed a U.K. patent-infringement lawsuit against Novozymes A/S over an enzyme in the latest legal battle between the companies.

The case was filed at the U.K. High Court on July 19, according to court records. Michael von Buelow, a spokesman for Danisco, wouldn’t say which enzymes were covered by the patent in the lawsuit.

“This is becoming the new normal for our relationship with Novozymes,” Buelow said. “We sit on 70 percent of the global enzyme market between us, so there’s bound to be some confrontation.”

Novozymes, based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, in May filed a complaint in the U.S. that said Danisco infringed its patent on a so-called alpha amylase enzyme used in biofuels. In 2007, Danisco paid Novozymes $15.3 million to settle a patent dispute over another enzyme, also used in ethanol production.

The legal department at Novozymes hasn’t received any information on the suit, Annegrethe Jakobsen, a spokeswoman, said by phone.

Both companies produce enzymes that break down organic material, such as grain and corn, to form bioethanol, which is used as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Danisco and Novozymes are also developing so-called second-generation bioethanol, which uses organic waste such as corn-cobs, rather than grain and other food stuffs. Danisco estimates the global market for such second-generation biofuel will grow to $75 billion by 2020.

The case is Danisco A/S v. Novozymes A/S, HC10C02358, High Court of Justice, Chancery Division.

Sony Seeks Patent for Stereoscopic Screen-Sharing System

Sony Corp., maker of the PlayStation video-game console, is seeking a patent on a technology that could make it possible for two viewers each to watch a different program simultaneously on the same screen.

According to Sony’s application 20100177172, the technology also might allow two players to play two different games simultaneously. The invention involves the use of special glasses with lenses that can be selectively darkened.

This “screen sharing” system could permit each viewer to receive the audio stream accompanying their respective television program or game. Both would be able to see the entire screen, instead of a split screen as with previous systems, Sony said in its application.

Sony filed the application last July with the assistance of Joshua D. Isenberg of JDI Patent of Fremont, California. The application was published in the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on July 15.

For more patent news, click here.


Time Warner Unit’s ‘Marshall’ Doesn’t Infringe, Court Rules

Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Brothers Pictures unit persuaded a federal appeals court to reject a copyright infringement claim brought by producers of a documentary film.

The producers of “Ashes to Glory” sued Warner for copyright infringement in federal court in Los Angeles in June 2007. They claimed Warner’s “We are Marshall” infringed the copyright to “Ashes to Glory.”

Both films are about the Marshall University football team. In 1970, the entire team from the Huntington, West Virginia, school was killed in the crash of a Southern Airways flight from Kinston, North Carolina.

After the crash, the team was rebuilt, with some of the new team members recruited from members of the student body who had never played football before.

The documentary “Ashes to Glory” came out in 2000. Warner’s fictionalized version, “We are Marshall,” starring Matthew McConaughey, was released in 2006.

In its July 15 ruling, the San Francisco-based appeals court said the trial court correctly determined there was no infringement. The historical facts, on which both films are based weren’t entitled to copyright protection and remain in the public domain.

The appeals court also said that the documentary’s producers failed to raise an issue of substantial similarity that would be essential for infringement claims.

The case is Deborah Novak v. Warner Brothers Pictures LLC, 08-56957, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

The lower court case is Deborah Novak v. Warner Brothers Pictures LLC, 2:07-cv-04000-GAF-PLA, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For more copyright news, click here.


Pet Drug Seller Says He Doesn’t Infringe Novartis Trademarks

A California man who sells veterinary products over the Internet asked a federal court in Phoenix to declare he isn’t infringing trademarks held by Novartis AG.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company objected to the domain name “” used by I Singh of San Jose California. According to the July 16 complaint, Novartis is seeking transfer of Singh’s domain name, claiming it infringes “Sentinel” trademarks for its milbemycin oxime and lufenuron product used to prevent flea infestation and a variety of parasites in pets.

Sing said he registered and used the domain name “for the purpose of promoting genuine Novartis products.” He asked the court to declare his registration of the domain name is lawful, not to transfer it to Novartis, and to determine that a previous domain-name arbitration proceeding incorrectly found him at fault.

Toyota Motor Corp. lost a trademark-infringement case against a California auto broker in a July 8 federal appeals court ruling. Toyota sought to bar the auto broker’s use of Toyota’s “Lexus” mark in its domain names.

In that case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned back Toyota’s challenge, saying that trademarks “are part of our common language and we all have some right to use them to communicate in a truthful, non-misleading way.”

Singh is represented by Jeffrey Sonnabend of SonnabendLaw of Brooklyn, New York.

The case is I Singh v. Novartis AG, 2:10-cv-01510-’ROS, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

True North Radio Sues True North News and Commentary’s Browns

True North Radio Inc., the producers of a conservative radio program aired on WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, sued a website operator based in Salt Lake City for trademark infringement.

Lowell and Sonja Brown are accused of operating a website that infringes the radio station’s marks. Recent postings on their website,, such as “Rush Limbaugh Says it ALL with Perfection” and “Do You Have the Stomach for ObamaCare?” supported the conservative viewpoint and their use of the phrase “True North News And Commentary” confuses the public, according to court papers.

According to their website, Lowell Brown is a partner at Washington’s Arent Fox LLP and Sonja Brown, a former television news reporter in Salt Lake City and TV producer in Los Angeles, is the spokeswoman for the Proposition 8 campaign in California against same-sex marriage.

“We believe the name ‘True North’ is sufficiently generic as to raise serious questions about the lawsuit’s merit,” Lowell Brown said in an e-mailed response to a request for comment. Brown said he hadn’t yet seen the complaint.

In the complaint filed July 20 in federal court in Brattleboro, Vermont, True North Radio asked the court to bar the defendants’ use of the trademark, and for awards of money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

True North Radio is represented by Andrew D. Manitsky of Gravel & Shea of Burlington, Vermont.

The case is True North Radio Inc., v. Brown, 1:10-cv-00175-jgm, U.S. District Court, District of Vermont (Brattleboro).

For more trademark news, click here.

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