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Rolls Royce, Pfizer, GM: Intellectual Property

United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit accused jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce Group Plc of unfairly using patent litigation to keep it from re-entering the biggest segment of the commercial-airline market.

Pratt & Whitney, in a lawsuit it said it filed yesterday in federal court in Connecticut, accused London-based Rolls-Royce of trying to interfere with its potential business arrangement and engaging in unfair business practices. Rolls-Royce sued in May, claiming the Pratt-made fan stage of the GP7200 jet engine infringed a way to make blades quieter and more efficient. Pratt denies the allegation and says the patent is invalid.

Rolls-Royce added Pratt’s Geared TurboFan engines to its complaint in August, as Airbus SAS and Boeing Co. ponder putting more efficient powerplants on the bestselling A320 and 737 planes. Pratt spent more than $1 billion and a decade to develop the more-efficient design, branded as PurePower, as a way to get back into the market for narrowbody aircraft after three decades as a solo engine maker.

“Rolls-Royce’s actions will not impede our ability to market and sell our engines,” Katy Padgett, a Pratt & Whitney spokeswoman, said in an interview. “Our engines use many different technologies and we can meet our performance commitment to customers with a variety of fan-blade designs.”

Airbus, the world’s biggest planemaker, said last week it’s in final negotiations with suppliers to upgrade its bestselling A320 fleet with new engines and may make a decision as soon as next month. Josh Rosenstock, a Rolls-Royce spokesman, declined to comment.

Engine choices for the A320 would include the PurePower model and an engine made by CFM International, General Electric Co.’s partnership with Safran SA. Pratt & Whitney is the world’s third-biggest engine maker behind Rolls-Royce and GE.

Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce are partners on current engines for the A320 and compete against CFM International via a group called International Aero Engines.

Rolls-Royce, which is developing its own more efficient engine for new narrowbody aircraft, hasn’t agreed to market PurePower through the partnership, saying it doesn’t see a business case for putting new jet engines on existing aircraft.

Each company is suing in its home turf and it’s likely to set up a battle as to where the dispute will be heard. Under federal law, the judges will have to decide which court is more convenient for both parties.

The first case is Rolls-Royce Plc v. United Technologies Corp., 10cv457, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

Pfizer Sues Novo Nordisk Over Insulin Injection Technology

Pfizer Inc., the world’s biggest drugmaker, sued Danish competitor Novo Nordisk A/S in a U.K. court to invalidate its patent for an injection mechanism that prevents overdoses.

Novo Nordisk’s European patent for the dose-setting device is based on claims that weren’t new when the patent application was filed, New York-based Pfizer said in a complaint in the High Court in London. The suit, filed July 5 and made public this week, didn’t say if Pfizer is using the technology.

“We disagree with Pfizer’s claim and we will defend the patent in court,” Mike Rulis, a spokesman for Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Novo Nordisk, said yesterday in a phone interview.

Pfizer and Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest maker of the diabetes treatment insulin, have sparred over delivery methods for the drug since at least 2005. The disputed patent concerns a device that lets doctors set maximum dose limits to prevent the visually impaired and other groups from using too much during self injections.

Pfizer also sued Novo Nordisk in Switzerland over the same patent, which expires in 2026, Pfizer spokeswoman Charlotte Binstead said in an e-mailed statement.

Novo Nordisk in December started the first human tests on an experimental insulin pill, joining companies seeking to develop an alternative to daily injections. The challenge is to develop an oral form of insulin -- a large and complex molecule -- that can survive its trip through the digestive system, according to Technology Review.

The companies’ earlier dispute concerned Pfizer’s inhaled-insulin product Exubera, seen as a possible replacement to injections. Pfizer stopped selling the product in 2007 when it failed to catch on with doctors and patients, while Novo Nordisk abandoned its inhaled version the following year.

The companies in 2007 settled a U.S. patent-infringement suit over Exubera. In that case, Novo Nordisk sued Pfizer in federal court in New York, claiming Exubera infringed two patents.

U.K.’s IPO Website Focuses on Golfers’ IP Competition

The U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office is focusing on this week’s Ryder Cup golf competition at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales.

Several Ryder Cup-related articles are posted on the office’s website, including one that compares and contrasts the IP estates of the two teams’ individual players.

The selection of Tiger Woods to the U.S. team virtually wipes out the U.K.’s golfer-related IP competition as Woods and his related companies “have more trademark registrations than the combined total of all trademark applications, trademark registrations, patent applications, and patents of the entire remaining field,” according to one of the articles.

A second article notes that the European patent office has 54,699 patents mentioning the word “golf,” and that the U.K.’s Acushnet Europe Ltd. holds more than 600 patents on golf balls alone.

Sanofi’s Patents on Cancer Drug Taxotere Invalidated

Sanofi-Aventis SA’s patents on its cancer drug Taxotere were ruled invalid by a U.S. judge, potentially clearing the way for Hospira Inc. and Apotex Inc. to start selling generic versions of the medicine.

Two of the Sanofi patents are obvious variations of an earlier patent on docetaxel, the active ingredient in Taxotere, U.S. District Judge Gregory Sleet in Wilmington, Delaware, said in an opinion filed yesterday. The judge also ruled that Sanofi misled the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the patents, so it shouldn’t be allowed to enforce them.

Taxotere, used to treat prostate cancer, generated 2.18 billion euros ($2.9 billion) in global sales in 2009 for Paris- based Sanofi. Like Tamixofen, which is used to treat breast cancer, Taxotere is derived from the Pacific Yew tree, Taxus brevifolia.

Lake Forest, Illinois-based Hospira, is seeking to sell an injectable product with the same active ingredient in Taxotere.

The court’s ruling is “clearly a positive step forward” for Hospira, said Frederick Wise, a New York-based analyst with Leerink Swann & Co. “There was some anticipation that we might see this sometime before the end of the year but this came faster, clearer and a little more positive than those expectations.”

Wise said every $100 million Hospira gets in sales will translate into 5 cents to 10 cents in earnings per share. Hospira has kept plans about the generic under wraps, he said.

Taxotere has been on the market since 1996, according to information on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website. Sanofi sought to block the generic-drug rivals until the patent terms end in 2013.

Sanofi won U.S. regulatory approval in June for a new type of chemotherapy to treat patients with advanced prostate cancer.

The Taxotere patents cover a formulation containing docetaxel, a compound that’s already covered by another patent. It would have been obvious for scientists to come up with the specific formula for Taxotere, the judge said.

The disputed patents -- 5,714,512 and 5,750,561 -- were issued in February 1998 and May 1998 respectively.

A spokesman for Hospira, Dan Rosenberg, said the ruling “paves the way for launch” of their product when the compound patent expires in November. “We recognize that this is ongoing litigation” subject to appeal, he said.

Elie Betito, a spokesman for closely held Apotex, had no immediate comment on the ruling. Megan Humphrey, a Sanofi spokeswoman, didn’t return voice and e-mail messages seeking comment.

The consolidated case is Aventis Pharma SA v. Hospira Inc. and Apotex Inc., 07CV721, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

For more patent news, click here.


European Anti-Piracy Report Endorsed by Children, Dead Artists

Some of the European artists who petitioned the European Parliament to adopt a report supporting stronger copyright laws are either dead or barely old enough to write, the TorrentFreak website reported.

The Gallo Report, “Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in the Internal Market,” was adopted by the European Parliament last week, TorrentFreak reported.

Parliament was sent a petition supporting the report by the entertainment industry purportedly signed by Hungarian filmmaker Lazlo Kovacs, who died in July 2007, according to TorrentFreak.

Other names on the petition included Cleopatra Stratan, a 7-year-old singer from Moldovia, and Michel Sardou, a French singer, who, according to TorrentFreak, has previously acknowledged being a pirate himself.

For more copyright news, click here.


Blue Bunny Maker Claims Dippin’ Dots’ Chillz Infringes

Wells Dairy Inc., maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, sued a Kentucky-based maker of cryogenically frozen ice cream for trademark infringement.

The Dippin’ Dots Chillz non-fat ice cream made by Dippin’ Dots Inc., of Paducah, Kentucky is accused of infringing the “Lemon Chill” trademark Wells used for a lemon-flavored Italian ice, according to the complaint filed Sept. 24 in federal court in Iowa.

Wells registered “Chill” with the U.S. Trademark office in November 1997 and “Lemon Chill” in January 1996, the La Mars, Iowa-based company said in its court papers. Wells claims these marks are infringed and the public is confused by Dippin’ Dots “Chillz” mark.

Consumers are likely to assume falsely that a nexus exists between the two companies and their products, the Iowa ice cream-maker claims.

It asked the court to bar Dippin’ Dots’ use of “Chillz” and to remove all promotional material bearing the word. It also seeks an award of all “earnings, profits, receipts and advantages” relative to the alleged infringement, and asked that the company be forced to pay for advertising “to dispel, cure or counteract any public confusion” caused by the alleged infringement.

Wells also asked the court to order Dippin’ Dots to abandon an application to register Chillz as a trademark, and seeks awards of money damages, tripled, and litigation costs and attorney fees.

The company is represented by Bruce W. McKee, Christine Lebron-Dykeman, and Kurt Van Thomme of McKee, Voorhees & Sease PLC, of Des Moines, Iowa.

The case is Wells Dairy Inc. v. Dippin Dots Inc., 5:10-cv-04090-MWB, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa.

For more trademark news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

‘Green’ Technology New Target for Intellectual Property Theft

“Green” technology is an “increasingly active target” of those who would steal trade secrets, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

The statement noted that in July a Michigan couple was indicted for allegedly stealing $40 million worth of General Motors Co. trade secrets related to hybrid engines. The couple, Yu Qin and ShanShan Du, had hoped to sell the secrets to one of the automaker’s Chinese competitors, according to the FBI statement.

The two were indicted in federal court in Detroit July 21. According to court documents, Du was hired as an engineer with GM’s advanced technology vehicles group in 2000, where she had access to hybrid vehicle technology trade secrets.

Qin, her husband, started a company related to power electronics and it was through this company that they planned to develop and sell hybrid-vehicle motor control technology to a Chinese company, according to the statement.

Du is accused of copying “thousands of GM documents, including documents containing GM trade secrets” to an external drive, and falsely telling GM she’d returned all of the company’s proprietary information.

The couple planned to provide the trade secrets as part of a proposed collaboration with China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd., the government claimed in the indictment. They are also accused of shredding and discarding documents related to their company and hybrid vehicles that were subject of federal grand jury subpoenas.

According to an FBI statement, Du and Quin face potential fines of as much as $750,000 and prison terms that could total 50 years.

Du is represented by Robert M. Morgan of Detroit, and Qin’s defense counsel is Frank D. Eaman, also of Detroit. Neither responded immediately to e-mailed requests for comment.

The case against the couple is U.S. v. Qin, 2:10-CR-20454-MOB-RSW, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

Other recent trade secret-misappropriation cases involved a chemist at a paint manufacturer and a research scientist for an agricultural company, according to the FBI statement.

With the “greening” of the American economy, the FBI says it’s “not surprising” that the new technologies are sought out by “information thieves looking to make a fast buck.”

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