DreamWorks, Blizzard, Utz, WTO: Intellectual Property

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. and 13 other motion-picture production companies were sued for patent infringement by a Texas-based patent holder.

InMotion Imagery Technologies Inc. accused DreamWorks of infringing a patent for a picture-based video indexing system. According to Bloomberg data, Marshall, Texas-based InMotion sued Walt Disney Co.’s Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc. and 12 other defendants in the same court in March 2010 for infringing the same patent.

In dispute is patent 6,526,219, which was issued in February 2003 to two Michigan inventors. One of the inventors -- John G. Posa -- is a patent lawyer practicing at Gifford, Krass, Anderson & Citkowski PC.

According to the company’s website, InMotion Imagery has a second patent, 6,574,416, which also is related to picture-based video indexing. The Tech Flash technology news website reported Feb. 25 that Intellectual Ventures of Bellevue, Washington, sold some patents to InMotion.

Intellectual Ventures, which is headed by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold, is a closely held company with a large patent portfolio across broad technology lines. The company has acquired large numbers of patents from individual inventors and universities, and has licensed many of them to companies that might have potentially infringed the patents.

InMotion shares the same street address -- next door to the federal courthouse in Marshall -- as Ward & Olivo, a New York- based IP specialty firm, and one of three firms representing the company.

The company claims it’s damaged by the production companies’ alleged infringement, and asked the court for money damages and an order barring future infringement. It also claims the infringement is deliberate, and seeks a tripling of the damages, in addition to awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

In addition to John F. Ward and John W. Olivo Jr., from Ward & Olivo, InMotion is represented by William E. Davis III of the Davis Firm PC of Longview, Texas, and Douglas L. Bridges and Jacqueline R. Knapp of Birmingham, Alabama’s Heninger Garrison Davis LLC.

According to the InMotion website, Disney, Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, and Weinstein Co. LLC are among the defendants in the March patent-infringement suit that have already settled.

In November 2009 some of the defendants in both cases were sued in the judicial district for infringing patent 7,277,010, for monitoring apparatus and method. That patent is held by Joao Control & Monitoring Systems of Texas LLC, which has the same street address in Marshall as InMotion.

That case is Joao Control & Monitoring Systems of Texas LLC v. Playboy Enterprises Inc., 6:09-cv-00499-LED, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Tyler).

The new case is InMotion Imagery Technologies LLC v. Evil Angel Productions Inc., 2:10-cv-00295-TJW, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Marshall).

The earlier case is InMotion Technologies LLC v. Penthouse Digital Media Productions Inc. 2:10-cv-00084-TJW, CE.

For more patent news, click here.


Blizzard Awarded $88.5 Million in World of WarCraft Suit

Blizzard Entertainment Inc., the publisher of the World of WarCraft online computer game, was awarded $88.5 million in a copyright-infringement case against a Georgia resident.

The game published filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles in October 2009 against Alyson Reeves of Savannah, Georgia, and five unidentified defendants. According to court papers, Reeves and the others developed “rogue” servers to facilitate computer users’ playing the World of WarCraft games without paying a monthly fee.

These actions allegedly took place through the scapegaming.com website, Blizzard said in its pleadings.

Blizzard claimed in its complaint that the defendants were sufficiently aware they were infringing to inform users that “no one from Blizzard or its related companies is permitted to enter these websites or view any content contained within these sites at any time whatsoever due to controversial reasons.”

The company also accused Reeves and others of reverse-engineering its software and developing a server program “to enable” those with pirated versions of the game to play the game. Players of the pirated game were encouraged to “donate” as much as $300 to advance in the game, Blizzard said.

Irvine, California-based Blizzard claimed that the Scapegaming website received at least $1.5 million from player “donations.”

According to the case docket, neither Reeves nor the unnamed defendants made any response to court filings and were apparently unrepresented by counsel. An attempt to access the scapegaming.com website yesterday was unsuccessful.

Blizzard was represented by Bonnie Lau and Felix T. Woo of Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP.

The case is Blizzard Entertainment v. Alyson Reeves, 2:09-cv-07621-SVW-AJW, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

SABC Sued Over Royalties for Broadcasting Music Videos

The South African Broadcasting Corp., a government-owned broadcast network, was sued by members of the Recording Industry of South Africa over music video royalties, the country’s Times newspaper reported.

The music-industry group claims its members are owed more than 28 million South African Rand ($3.8 million) in royalties for more than 12,000 digitized music videos broadcast by SABC over the past five years, according to the Times.

The network claims it wasn’t party to a royalty agreement with the industry group, according to the newspaper.

Among the members of the group seeking royalties are Warner Music Group Corp., Sony Corp.’s BMG Music, and Universal Music Group, the Times reported.

For more copyright news, click here.


Utz Seeks Declaration It Doesn’t Infringe Frito-Lay Trademarks

Utz Quality Foods Inc. of Hanover, Pennsylvania, asked a federal court to declare it isn’t infringing trademarks held by Frito-Lay Foods Ltd.’s Frito-Lay North American unit.

The case stems from the expansion of the Utz product line beyond potato chips to cookies. Frito-Lay, which produces Grandma’s cookies, had objected to Utz’s new “Grandma Utz” line of products, according to court papers.

Frito-Lay holds registered U.S. trademarks for “Grandma’s” for goods described as cookies, according to the complaint filed Aug. 13 in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Utz said it was given until Aug. 16 to respond to the company’s complaint or face an infringement suit to be filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas. That particular court is perceived by some IP lawyers to be more favorable to plaintiffs than other districts.

Utz contends that the Frito-Lay “Grandma’s” marks are “weak and entitled to a narrow scope of protection.” It asked the court to declare it isn’t infringing Frito-Lay’s trademarks, and to order Frito-Lay to quit claiming Utz is infringing.

The company also asked for awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

Utz is represented by Patrick J. Reilly of Gross McGinley LLP of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Co-plaintiff with Utz is Rice Investments LLP of Hanover, Utz’s partner and the owner of the company’s trademarks.

The case is Rice Investments LP v. Frito-Lay North America Inc., 1:10-CV-01694-YK, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

FirstRand Hangs on To Naming Rights for South Africa Stadium

FirstRand Ltd.’s First National Bank unit retains the rights to name South Africa’s Soccer City Stadium, according to South Africa’s Business Report.

The country’s South Gauteng High Court said the bank has sole right to name the stadium until either July 2014 or July 2016, according to the Business Report’s website.

Jacques Grobbelaar, executive chairman of Stadium Management South Africa, said the court ruling is problematic because “some companies would object to being associated with events held in the stadium” if it’s named after a potential competitor, according to the Business Report.

His organization, which manages the stadium, had asked the court let it name the venue the “National Stadium,” according to the publication.

Best Buy Says Priest’s ‘God Squad’ Car Sticker Infringed Marks

Best Buy Co., the Richfield, Minnesota-based electronics retail chain, demanded that a priest remove door stickers from the black-and-white Volkswagen beetle he drives, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday.

The Reverend Luke Strand of Holy Family Parish in Fond Du Lac was told to remove the “God Squad” sticker because it potentially infringed Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” marks, the newspaper reported.

The priest said he’s removed the sign and acknowledged he was inspired by the “Geek Squad,” according to the newspaper.

He said he’s not in competition with Best Buy’s trouble-shooting service, and plans to design a new logo that won’t be seen as infringing, the newspaper reported.

For more trademark news, click here.

IP Trade Dispute

WTO Says EU Electronic Goods’ Duty Breaks Trade Rules

The European Union broke global trade laws by imposing import duties on $11 billion of high-tech electronic goods such as computer monitors, the World Trade Organization ruled, backing a complaint by the U.S. and Japan.

The two governments and Taiwan had claimed the EU is undermining a 1996 deal to scrap tariffs worldwide on technology goods by arguing that some new products fall outside the scope of the agreement. They complained at the Geneva-based WTO in May 2008 and, after failing to resolve the conflict in the ensuing weeks, asked the trade arbiter to rule on the case three months later.

The dispute concerns the Information Technology Agreement, which requires WTO members to give duty-free treatment to imports of information-technology goods. The case against the EU involves three products -- computer monitors, cable converter boxes and multifunction printers -- all developed after 1996.

“This ruling affirms the principle that changes in technology are not an excuse to apply new duties to products covered by the Information Technology Agreement,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said yesterday in an statement. “Technological innovation drives economic growth and improves living standards for working families and consumers in all countries. The high-tech sector is a vital part of our economy and has played a leading role in many states’ economic growth.”

Global exports of the goods covered by the dispute and produced by companies including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Canon Inc. exceed $70 billion, according to U.S. estimates. Most of the U.S. products are manufactured in countries such as China and Malaysia, though they’re based on U.S. designs and engineering and sold under American brand names.

The EU offered to reopen negotiations on the accord, which saves makers of technology products $5 billion a year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a U.S. industry group.

“U.S. high-tech companies and their workers depend on the ITA to reach foreign markets, and consumers in Europe and around the world depend on the agreement for low-cost access to leading technology products,” said John Neuffer, vice president for technology and trade at the Information Technology Industry Council in Washington.

The ITA has played a “central role” in promoting innovation, growth and jobs in the U.S. and around the world, according to the council. Trade in ITA products more than tripled to $4 trillion in 2008 from $1.2 trillion in 1996, when the ITA was created, the Information Technology Industry Council said.

The EU proposed expanding the list of electronic goods exempt from customs duties in September 2008. The 27-nation bloc didn’t identify which items it planned to add to the ITA, saying only that it wanted to give priority to multifunctional products. The EU’s trade commissioner at the time, Peter Mandelson, said he didn’t rule out the inclusion of the three products that are at the heart of the WTO complaint.

The EU argued that flat-panel computer screens that show videos are televisions, not computer components. These monitors, along with cable converter boxes with Internet access, face 14 percent customs duties. The EU also told WTO judges it considered printers with other capabilities, such as faxing or scanning, to be copiers rather than printers and therefore subject to a 6 percent tariff.

WTO judges said in their 458-page report that while the EU had indicated it would repeal some of the regulations that had been challenged, “there is no evidence before the panel confirming such repeal. Therefore the panel has proceeded on the basis that the said measures are in force.”

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