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Groupon, IPCom, Bayer, ICANN: Intellectual Property

Groupon Inc., a daily coupon website with more than 35 million users, was sued by a Florida company that claims the site is infringing four patents related to a Web strategy that brings buyers together.

Closely held Ewinwin Inc., based in Tampa, said it has been operating since 1999 and maintains a site where businesses promote their products and set prices based on the number of customers who place orders. The four patents were issued in 2006, 2007, and in March and April.

The patent complaint is the second filed by a rival site against Chicago-based Groupon, which has expanded in two years to 300 markets with 2,600 employees and is negotiating a possible $6 billion purchase by Google Inc. Ewinwin contends it is entitled to a share of profits from the Groupon site.

For every sale made by Groupon, “Ewinwin suffers a further competitive disadvantage in that Groupon receives a substantial portion of said sale and illicitly builds customer loyalty and brand recognition notwithstanding the fact that Ewinwin entered the group-buying market 10 years prior to Groupon,” Ewinwin said in the complaint, filed Dec. 1 in federal court in Tampa.

Groupon sends users daily messages offering discounts on products and services. It keeps 50 percent of every deal sold, while businesses benefit from a rise in new customers. Deals, known as groupons, activate when a certain number is sold, encouraging users to recommend offers to friends.

Ewinwin, in its 25-page complaint, described itself as “an active and contributing member to the Tampa and Central Florida economy.” More than 30 Central Florida businesses have been featured on the site, and the company helps fund a high-technology grant program in the region, the company said.

Groupon’s only patents were bought from other companies, including one owned by Mobshop, a site that closed in 2001, according to the complaint. Groupon has accused competing site MobGob LLC, based in Los Angeles, of infringing that patent, in retaliation for an infringement suit MobGob filed against Groupon in September.

Aaron Zamost, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, referred queries on the suit to Groupon. Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Groupon, declined to comment on the new complaint.

The case is Ewinwin Inc. v. Groupon Inc., 10cv2678, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Tampa).

IPCom Drops Three Patents in U.K. Nokia Mobile Case

IPCom GmbH, an intellectual-property holding company, gave up three U.K. mobile-phone patents that are subject to a legal dispute with Nokia Oyj.

IPCom won’t defend three of the four patents at issue in a case filed at the High Court in London, Nokia spokesman Mark Durrant said in an e-mail yesterday. IPCom continues to defend a network-related patent in the suit, he said.

The companies are involved in patent litigation around Europe as IPCom seeks royalties for a portfolio of mobile-technology patents acquired from Robert Bosch GmbH in 2007. IPCom has given up several patents in the U.K. to concentrate on the most important ones, Alistair Hammond, a spokesman for Pullach, Germany-based IPCom, said in an interview.

“All together, IPCom is defending four core patents attacked by Nokia in a number of different lawsuits with the aim of focusing efforts on its key patents,” he said. “As part of this strategy it has decided to let a number of lesser patents lapse in the U.K.”

IPCom indicated it would drop the patents in court papers filed this week, Hammond said. The step only concerns litigation in the U.K. and has no effect on cases in other countries, he said.

For more patent news, click here.


Bayer Sued Following Complaint Against Pet-Product Ads

A unit of Bayer AG, Europe’s biggest drug and chemical maker, was sued by an Arizona-based maker of pet products.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 30 in federal court in Phoenix, is in response to a complaint BayerHealthCare LLC’s Animal Health Division made to the National Advertising Division of the Council of the Better Business Bureaus Inc.

Farnam Cos., which does business as Central Life Sciences, included the Bayer complaint to the NAD in its court files. In that document, written by David H. Bernstein of New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Farnam is accused of false advertising and making false and misleading claims about its Bio Spot products, which compete against Bayer’s K9 Advantix.

Farnam said it wants the court to settled the dispute over its ad claims rather than the NAD. The Arizona company noted that under NAD procedures, a party can choose to resolve a dispute in court, and any complaint that is the subject of litigation can’t be investigated by NAD.

The ads contain no actionable “puffery or statements of opinion,” Farnam said. It asked the court to declare that its ads are “truthful, adequately substantiated and lawful” under federal trademark law, and for awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

Farnam is represented by Robert J. Itri and Donna H. Catalfio of Gallagher & Kennedy PA of Phoenix.

The case is Farnam Companies Inc., v. Animal Health Division of Bayer HealthCare LLC, 2:10-cv-02853-MHM, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

IOC Demands Protection for ‘Olympic,’ ‘Olympiad’ Domain Names

The International Olympic Committee threatened legal action against the organization that assigns Internet domain names.

In a letter sent the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Nov. 29, the IOC said that unless ICANN puts “Olympics” and “Olympiad” on a list of reserved generic top-level domain names, the Olympic movement’s governing body would “employ all available legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial mechanisms to hold ICANN accountable for damages.”

Failure to protect these names and bar others’ use of them would “force” the IOC to “divert significant time and financial resources away from fulfilling its non-profit mission and toward preventing infringement, dilution and the tarnishment of the Olympic trademarks,” the committee wrote.

The letter was signed by both Urs Lacotte, the IOC’s director general, and Howard M. Stupp, the committee’s legal affairs director.

ICANN, based in Marina del Rey, California, is seeking public comment on its guidebook for applications for new generic top-level domain names.

For more trademark news, click here.


Black Hills Institute Seeks $8 Million for Infringed Bones

A Montana company that provides museums with full-scale dinosaur skeletons was sued for copyright infringement by a South Dakota paleontological-supply company that seeks more than $8 million in damages.

The lawsuit is related to Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Inc.’s Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The South Dakota company said its T.rex skeleton, known as Stan, was discovered in pieces in 1987. Black Hills Institute spent 30,000 hours putting the skeleton together, with many of the missing bones and bone fragments interpreted and created by the institute.

When Ft. Peck Paleontology Inc. discovered its T.rex skeleton in 1997, Black Hills Institute loaned the Montana company casts based on Stan and a second T.rex to aid in the identification and preparation of what Ft. Peck calls “Peck’s Rex” skeleton, according to court papers.

Black Hills Institute never gave Ft. Peck Paleontology permission to copy the T.rex casts or incorporate them into the Peck’s Rex skeleton, the South Dakota company said in the complaint filed Nov. 23 in federal court in Great Falls, Montana.

It accused Ft. Peck Paleontology of pirating Black Hills Institute’s “expertise, labor and artistic work” to create Peck’s Rex and to sell copies to others. Black Hills Institute claims that at least five infringing copies of Peck’s Rex skeletons have been sold, including ones acquired by the Maryland Science Center, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

At least nine skeletal elements belonging to Black Hills Institute have been incorporated into Peck’s Rex without permission, according to court papers.

Black Hills Institute asked the court for an order for seizure and destruction of all infringing goods, and to bar the Montana company from further infringement. Additionally, it seeks money damages of $8.26 million, and extra damages to punish the defendant. It also seeks an order for corrective advertising, and awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

Ft. Peck Paleontology didn’t immediately return an e-mailed request for comment.

Black Hills Institute is represented by Harland B. Krogh or Crist, Krogh & Nord LLC of Billings, Montana.

The case is Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Inc., v. Ft. Peck Paleontology Inc., 4:10-cv-00076-SHE, U.S. District Court, District of Montana (Great Falls).

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Gundlach’s DoubleLine Trust Faces New Trade Secrets Lawsuit

A trust created by DoubleLine Capital LP’s Jeffrey Gundlach was sued by TCW Group Inc., which already sued its former investment chief after he brought more than half of its fixed-income professionals to his new firm.

DoubleLine Funds Trust was started to market DoubleLine Capital’s mutual funds and to “generate fees and profit for Gundlach and the money management firm he had formed,” TCW said in a new complaint filed Dec. 1 in state court in Los Angeles. TCW provided a copy of the complaint to Bloomberg News.

TCW, a Los Angeles-based money management firm, accuses the trust and its trustees of misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition, among other allegations, and seeks unspecified damages.

“Jeffrey Gundlach and his co-conspirators built a business based on the wholesale theft of huge amounts of TCW’s proprietary data and analytical systems, and that business includes DoubleLine Funds Trust,” Steve Madison, a lawyer for TCW, said in an e-mailed statement. “When DoubleLine Funds was launched last spring, TCW notified the funds and their trustees of TCW’s intent to name the trust as a defendant.”

TCW, a unit of Societe Generale, in January accused Gundlach and several former employees who joined DoubleLine of breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition and misappropriation of confidential information and demanded more than $200 million in damages.

“TCW has made false claims against DoubleLine for 11 months,” said Lew Phelps, a spokesman for DoubleLine. “Their case is going not at all well. This latest legal action by TCW is redundant and meaningless.”

The case is Trust Company of the West v. DoubleLine Funds Trust, BC450413, Los Angeles County Superior Court.

IP Moves

Kirkland & Ellis Loses Nick G. Saros to Jenner & Block

Jenner & Block hired Nick G. Saros for its intellectual-property practice, the Chicago-based firm said in a statement.

Saros, a patent litigator, joins from Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Before he was a lawyer, he was a structural design engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. and Hughes Space & Communications.

He has represented clients whose technologies included medical devices, the Internet, automotive and consumer products, slot machines and printing equipment. In addition to patent-infringement cases, he has done trademark, trade dress and copyright work.

Saros has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University and a law degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles.

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