Groupon, Apple, Amazon, Google: Intellectual Property

Groupon Inc., the company that provides daily deal coupons, was sued for infringement by a California patent holder.

Mobile Commerce Framework Inc., of Mission Viejo, California, accused Chicago-based Groupon of infringing patent 7,693,752. This patent, which was issued in April 2010, covers “a subscription-based system for providing commerce information for one or more mobile devices for one or more merchants,” according to the patent document.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office of patent ownership-changes, Mobile Commerce Framework acquired its interest in the patent in March, one month before the patent actually was issued.

Groupon is the third company Mobile Commerce has sued for infringing this patent. In August an infringement suit was filed against Foursquare Labs Inc. of New York. Mobile Commerce also filed a patent infringement suit against San Francisco’s Yelp Inc. user-review and local-search service.

In the suit against Groupon, Mobile Commerce said a variety of Groupon products, including apps for Apple Inc.’s iPad and Research in Motion Ltd.’s Blackberry infringe the patent. The California company claims it has suffered “irreparable injury” as the result of Groupon’s actions.

It asked the court to bar further infringement, and to order Groupon to withdraw and destroy all allegedly infringing products. Additionally, the company asked for awards of money damages, and interest on those damages.

Neither Groupon nor Yelp responded immediately to an e-mailed request for comment. Foursquare responded to its suit with a May 13 filing in which it denied infringing the patent and argued that the patent was invalid and unenforceable.

Mobile Commerce is represented by Jonathan Hangartner of X-Patents APC of La Jolla, California.

The suit against Groupon is Mobile Commerce Framework Inc. v. Groupon Inc., 3:11-cv-02586-MMA-WMC, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).

The suit against Yelp is Mobile Commerce Framework Inc. v. Yelp Inc., 3:11-cv-02589-MMA-MDD, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).

The suit against Foursquare is Mobile Commerce Framework Inc., v. Foursquare Labs Inc., 3:11-cv-00481-BEN-BLM, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).

Jobs Listed as Inventor on Two New U.S. Patents For Apple

Steve Jobs’ influence continues to be felt at Apple Inc., the Cupertino, California-based company he founded.

He is one of the named inventors on two new patents issued yesterday to Apple, according to the new-patent database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer Oct. 5, is one of 15 inventors named on each patent.

The company has become best known in recent years for its iPhone and iPad. Both patents -- D648,333 and D648,334 -- are design patents for laptop computers.

Applications for the two patents were filed in January and June, respectively. Typically design patents are issued much more rapidly than others, which often take years to move through the patent office.

Barnes & Noble Urges U.S. to Probe Microsoft on Mobile Patents

Barnes & Noble Inc. asked U.S. regulators to investigate whether Microsoft Corp. seeks to monopolize the mobile-device market by demanding patent royalties on electronics running on Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

“Microsoft is embarking on a campaign of asserting trivial and outmoded patents against manufacturers of Android devices,” Barnes & Noble said in an Oct. 17 letter to Gene Kimmelman, the Justice Department’s chief counsel for competition policy. “Microsoft is attempting to raise its rivals’ costs in order to drive out competition and to deter innovation in mobile devices.”

The world’s largest software maker accused New York-based Barnes & Noble of infringing five patents and filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, seeking to block imports of the Nook readers. Barnes & Noble made its letters to the Justice Department public in a filing with the commission yesterday.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, contends it owns patented inventions that are used in the Android operating system, and has struck licensing deals with companies including Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp., two of the biggest makers of Android phones.

Barnes & Noble cited as examples Microsoft’s participation in a group of companies including Apple Inc. to buy the patents of bankrupt Novell Inc. and a three-way licensing agreement with Nokia Oyj and Mosaid Technologies Inc.

Those actions were part of a “series of tactics designed by Microsoft to raise its rivals’ costs and prevent Android-based devices from taking away sales of Microsoft’s Windows operating system,” Peter Barbur, of Cravath Swaine & Moore in New York, said in the Oct. 17 letter to Kimmelman.

A trial on Microsoft’s patent claims against Barnes & Noble is scheduled for February in Washington. Laura Young, a spokeswoman with Microsoft, said the company had no comment on the Barnes & Noble filing.

The case is In the Matter of Certain Handheld Electronic Computing Devices, 337-769, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

For more patent news, click here.


Adidas, Pacific Brands Take Shoe-Stripe Trademark Case to Court

Adidas AG and Pacific Brands Ltd. are facing off in court in Australia over a stripe design for athletic shoes, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.

Herzogenaurach, Germany-based Adidas has told Australia’s federal court that Pacific Brands was selling knockoff athletic shoes with four stripes that infringed on the German company’s three-stripe design, according to the Herald Sun.

Even though Pacific Brands is no longer distributing the alleged copies, Adidas said it was going ahead with the suit to discourage other makers of knockoffs, the Herald Sun reported.

Pacific Brands, based in Hawthorn, Australia, was distributing the shoes to which Adidas objected through small outlets, according to the newspaper.

Schools Get ‘.XXX’ Domains to Bar Pornographers’ Use of Marks

In efforts to protect their trademarks, universities have begun registering their websites with the new “.xxx” suffix intended for sexually explicit content, United Press International reported.

The domain names cost about $200, “so I don’t see any reason not to do it,” said Greg Jackson, vice president for policy and analysis at Educause, an organization that promotes the use of technology in higher education, according to UPI.

The universities are taking the step to prevent others from using their trademarks in the adult-content world, UPI reported.

Two of the schools that have already registered their marks with the “.xxx” domain suffix are the University of Missouri and Washington University, according to UPI.

Two Competing ‘Rally Squirrel’ Trademark Applications Filed

Eight days before the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team won the World Series Oct. 28, a Missouri company submitted an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register “Rally Squirrels” as a trademark. A second application submitted by a different party was filed two days after the final game.

The original “rally squirrel” got his name after he ran across home plate during a playoff game between the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. The squirrel became a focus for fan enthusiasms during the World Series, with a local hospital raising more than $200,000 through its sale of Rally Squirrel t-shirts and other souvenir goods, KDSL television reported on its website.

According to the patent office database, PBR Industries of Fenton, Missouri, is seeking the mark for promotional products, including clothing, drinkware, novelty products, office supplies and sporting goods. The PBR application doesn’t state a date of first use of the term.

Two days after the big win, a Florida resident filed an application for the same mark. Sean Patrick Sullivan of Delray Beach, Florida, said he would use the mark on wearable garments. He claimed he first used it on Oct. 12.

When parties are competing for the same trademark, the date of first use -- namely when merchandise bearing the mark is first shipped -- is important. If that date can be proven, it will give the applicant with the earliest date the more senior rights to the trademark.

For more trademark news, click here.


Amazon’s Kindle Unit Gave Away Novel for Free, Writer Complains Inc. gave away more than 5,000 copies of a Washington D.C.-based writer’s self-published book for free, the writer claimed.

James Crawford is the author of “Blood Soaked & Contagious,” a zombie-themed novel. He said in a blog posting that he signed up to publish digital copies of his book through Seattle-based Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The book was to be sold for $5.99 per download.

According to his contract with Amazon, if the company discovers the book for sale anywhere else at a lower price, it can match that price if it chooses to, Crawford said.

He had listed a teaser version of the first three chapters of the book for free through Barnes & Noble Inc.’s website, and found that Kindle Direct Publishing mistakenly considered this to be the entire novel. So his price on the Amazon site had “magically been discounted 100 percent,” and before he removed the book for sale through the Amazon website, Kindle “has given away 5,104 copies of the book for free,” Crawford said.

He removed the book from the Amazon listing and contacted the company to complain.

In his blog Crawford posted a response letter sent to him by Kindle Direct Publishing on Oct. 7. In that letter Amazon says that it can’t pay any royalties on sales that took place when the book was listed for $0 on the website. Amazon said that if Crawford resubmitted the book, the price will be corrected.

When accessed yesterday, the website listed Crawford’s book for $5.99 in an edition for the company’s Kindle electronic reader.

Google Sent DMCA Takedown Notice Over Scarlett Johansson Photos

Actress Scarlett Johansson sent Google Inc. a letter demanding the removal of nude photos of herself.

The letter, sent on Johansson’s behalf by Lavely & Singer PC of Los Angeles, specifies that even though the photos were registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, they aren’t authorized for publication.

Johansson demanded their removal under the “takedown” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The photos, which allegedly appeared on two different websites, are “copies of highly personal and private photographs which capture our client self-posing in her own home in a state of undress and/or topless,” the firm said in the letter.

The letter was posted on the Chilling Effects website, which tracks takedown requests made under the DMCA. The site is a joint project of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine, George Washington School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law clinics.

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

AU Optronics, TSMC Call For Taiwan Law Over Trade Secret Theft

AU Optronics Corp. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. are among the Taiwanese companies asking for a new law against industrial espionage, Agence France Presse reported.

The companies told Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou a new law is needed in the wake of increasing theft of trade secrets in their country, according to AFP.

The high tech companies told the president that presently offenders are prosecuted for violating laws against breach of trust and embezzlement and penalties associated with those violations aren’t severe enough to halt the growing problem, AFP reported.

Mounting competition from China is exacerbating the problem, according to the French news service.

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