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Reckitt Benckiser, Coach, Motorola: Intellectual Property

Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc was given a final fine of 10.2 million pounds ($16.6 million) by a U.K. regulator for halting supplies of a heartburn medicine to the National Health Service to block sales of a generic version.

The fine, disclosed and provisionally accepted in October, was lowered from 12 million pounds after Reckitt, the world’s biggest maker of household cleaners, admitted violating U.K. and European competition law and cooperated in the case, the Office of Fair Trading said yesterday in a statement.

“This action demonstrates both our willingness to take action against companies abusing dominant positions, and to impose fines that will deter other businesses from engaging in anticompetitive behavior,” OFT Chief Executive Officer John Fingleton said in the statement.

Reckitt, based in Slough, U.K., admitted dropping the drug, Gaviscon Original Liquid, too quickly from the service’s prescription channel in 2005 to boost sales of a version with an active patent and before its generic name had been published, according to the OFT. The move blocked doctors from prescribing a cheaper generic version and ensured more prescriptions for the newer product, Gaviscon Advance Liquid, which has a patent that doesn’t expire until 2016.

Europe-Wide Patent System Would Slash Companies’ Costs, EU Says

Companies’ costs to protect their innovations could drop drastically under two draft proposals that would set up the European Union’s first patent system.

The amount a company would have to pay to protect its technology in Europe could drop to less than 2,500 euros ($3,620) from current fees that can be as much as 32,000 euros, the European Commission said yesterday.

“The purpose of unitary patent protection is to make innovation cheaper and easier for businesses and inventors everywhere in Europe,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal markets commissioner said in an e-mailed statement. “It will mean a big reduction in terms of costs and red tape, and provide a stimulus for European innovation.”

The closest thing currently to an EU-wide patent is offered by the European Patent Office, which isn’t part of the EU and has 38 member countries. Once granted, those patents must then be defended in each of the individual countries. Attempts to reach a deal on a region-wide patent since 2000 have failed mainly over language issues.

Under the new plan, which still needs the approval of EU lawmakers and governments, companies would file for so-called unitary patent protection with the EPO in Munich in any of the EU’s 23 official languages. The patent would be examined and granted in English, French or German and the claims then translated into the other two languages.

The proposal by the Brussels-based commission, the EU’s executive agency, was made yesterday over the objections of Spain and Italy, which opted out of the plans over language. The commission has said it hoped the two countries would still join.

Companies including Nokia Oyj, the world’s biggest maker of mobile phones, have said there are risks of going ahead with the patent without having the structure of a future patent court in place. The plan -- the first in more than a decade of negotiations -- may be hampered by a ruling from the EU’s top court that an existing proposal for a separate patent tribunal doesn’t comply with the region’s rules.

The commission said it “is in the process of analyzing” the decision “and considering ways to address the court’s concerns.”

Krka Says Slovenian Court Finds Eli Lilly Suit ‘Unfounded’

Krka Group d.d., Slovenia’s biggest drugmaker, said a district court in Ljubljana found a patent lawsuit filed by Eli Lilly & Co.’s unit in the U.K. is unfounded.

The complaint was filed over the alleged infringement of the patent for Olanzapine, the active ingredient in Zalasta, which is the generic version of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.

The Novo Mesto-based company commented in a statement yesterday to the Ljubljana stock exchange.

For more patent news, click here.


Coach Seeks $2 Million from Jo-Ann, Feldman in Trademark Suit

Leonard Green & Partners LP’s Jo-Ann Fabric unit was sued for trademark infringement by Coach Inc., the New York-based maker of handbags and other high-end leather goods.

According to the complaint filed April 11 in federal court in Chicago, the Hudson, Ohio-based fabric and craft store is carrying a fleece fabric that infringes the Coach signature “C” trademark.

The fabric is sold both through the fabric chain’s brick-and-mortar stores and the company website, Co-defendant with the fabric store is Feldman Co., of New York. According to court papers, Jo-Ann informed Coach that Feldman is the designer and supplier of the allegedly infringing fabric.

Coach first registered the C design as a U.S. trademark in September 2002, according to the complaint. The leather-goods company, which says it sells $3 billion worth of merchandise annually, has filed more than 500 trademark infringement suits since the beginning of 2010.

The company claims it’s damaged by the sale of the allegedly infringing fabric and that the public is likely to be confused about its source. The fabric store and Feldman are accused of trying to benefit from the “incalculable goodwill” symbolized by the C mark, Coach said in its pleadings.

Coach asked the court to bar Feldman and Jo-Ann from future infringement, and for the recall of all infringing products and promotional materials. The company asked the court for an award of $2 million for each counterfeit mark or type of counterfeit goods, and additional damages to punish the defendants for their actions.

Additionally, Coach asked for awards of attorney fees and litigation costs.

Feldman did not respond immediately to an e-mail requesting comment. Jo-Ann spokeswoman Courtney Talkington said in an e-mail that her company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Coach is represented by S. Patrick McKey, Mariangela M. Seale and Donald A. Cole of St. Louis-based Brian Cave LLP.

The case is Coach Inc. v. Joann Fabric and Craft Stores, 1:11-cv-02432, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

More Than 44,000 Indian Trademark Registration Files Lost

Files of more than 44,000 trademark registrations have disappeared from branches of India’s Trade Marks Registry in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta, the Hindustan Times reported.

The Delhi High Court has told a division of the Ministry of Commerce to track the files immediately, according to the newspaper.

The court did say that many parties have no idea that the files are lost, Hindustan Times reported.

Even the Trade Marks Registry Office has no idea what caused the files to disappear, or when they went missing, the high court said, according to Hindustan Times.

Alberto-Culver Sues Private-Label Manufacturer For Infringement

Alberto-Culver Co., a manufacturer of beauty and household products, sued a Canadian maker of private-label products for trademark infringement.

According to the complaint filed April 12 in federal court in Chicago, Apollo Health and Beauty Care Corp. of Concord, Ontario, is accused of infringing the trade dress associated with Alberto-Culver’s TRESemme line of hair-care products.

Alberto claims Apollo sent a solicitation to members of the TopCo Associates LLC cooperative in October 2009 offering hair-fare products “expressly intended to simulate” the TRESemme products. After this, Alberto says, Apollo sold the infringing products to stores in the U.S, using an advertising theme that simulated the TRESemme ad themes.

TopCo is not a party to the suit.

The use of such similar packaging was “adopted for the purpose of trading upon the goodwill symbolized by Albert’s TRESseme black and white trade dress,” Alberto said in its court papers.

Melrose Park, Illinois-based Alberto said it’s harmed by Apollo’s actions, and that the Canadian company is competing unfairly by using copycat packaging for its products. It asked the court to bar Apollo from using packaging similar to that of the TRESemme products, and for awards of money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

Alberto requested that both the damages and the profits Apollo realized from its alleged infringement be tripled and be awarded to the Illinois company. It also asked for an order for the destruction of all infringing products and promotional materials.

Apollo didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Alberto is represented by Charles Robert Mandly Jr. of Milwaukee’s Foley & Lardner LLP.

The case is Alberto-Culver International Inc. v. Apollo Health and Beauty Care Corp., 1:11-cv-02466, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

For more trademark news, click here.


U.K.’s IPO Uses Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit to Tell IP Story

Aardman Animations Ltd.’s Wallace & Gromit cartoon characters animate a website set up by the U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office to advertise a youth-oriented exhibit focused on intellectual property.

The “Cracking Ideas” website, which features a noisy factory sound track, promotes an exhibition at the Life Science Center at Newcastle Upon Tyne, running from April 16 through Oct. 30.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Intellectual Property Office ran a “Cracking Ideas” competition, soliciting kids’ designs for theme park attractions. Winners of that competition will be announced on the website in June.

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Motorola Solutions, Huawei Agree to End Technology Dispute

Motorola Solutions Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. settled a technology-secrets dispute, allowing the sale of Motorola’s networks unit to Nokia Siemens Networks to proceed.

Motorola Solutions and Huawei will drop lawsuits against each other, with the Chinese company receiving an undisclosed fee for use of its technology, the two companies said in a joint statement yesterday. Motorola also agreed to lower the price Nokia Siemens will pay for the phone-network equipment business to $975 million, from $1.2 billion, Motorola said in a separate regulatory filing. Motorola and Nokia Siemens intend to close the deal on April 29, according to the filing.

Motorola Solutions had sought an agreement to help close the sale to Nokia Siemens, announced in July. Huawei, China’s biggest maker of telecommunications equipment, sued Motorola and Nokia Siemens in January, saying Motorola hadn’t provided assurances it would prevent disclosures about Huawei technology to Nokia Siemens.

“After reviewing the facts, we decided to resolve these matters and return to our traditional relationship of confidence and trust,” Greg Brown, chief executive officer of Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola, said in the statement.

As part of the settlement, Huawei will allow Nokia Siemens to receive and use confidential Huawei information to service networks Motorola has deployed.

Motorola Solutions spokesman Nick Sweers declined to comment on the reasons for the reduced sale price or how big the Huawei fee is. The terms of the deal are otherwise unchanged, he said, adding that the transaction still needs approval from Chinese regulators.

“This suit was never about Motorola or Nokia Siemens,” said Bill Plummer, Huawei’s Washington-based vice president of external affairs, said in an interview today. “This was about seeking to ensure that our intellectual property rights were protected.”

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