Yahoo, Gevo, SodaStream, Foxconn: Intellectual Property

Yahoo! Inc., owner of the largest U.S. Web portal, is in talks to resolve a patent-infringement dispute with Facebook Inc., according to a court filing.

Lawyers for Yahoo asked U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco yesterday for a two-week extension on deadlines to file replies in the lawsuit while the companies hold discussions. The lawyers also asked for a two-week delay in a motion hearing now set for Aug. 10, according to the filing.

“The parties are currently engaged in settlement negotiations to resolve this dispute,” Kevin Smith, a Yahoo lawyer, said in the filing. “The parties believe that a further extension will facilitate settlement.”

Yahoo sued Facebook in March, alleging that the social-networking provider infringes patents covering such functions as Internet privacy, advertising and information sharing. Facebook countersued in April, accusing Yahoo of infringing 10 of its patents.

Scott Thompson, who was Yahoo’s chief executive officer at the time, has since resigned after failing to correct misstatements in his academic record.

Dana Lengkeek, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the proposed delay. Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.

The case is Yahoo! Inc. v. Facebook, 12-cv-01212, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Gevo Probably Didn’t Infringe Butamax Patent, Judge Rules

Gevo Inc. probably didn’t infringe a patent held by Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture of DuPont Co. and BP Plc, and is free to sell its renewable-fuel products, a judge said in a pretrial ruling.

Butamax sued Gevo, backed by the oil refiner Total SA and specialty-chemicals maker Lanxess AG, in 2011 alleging misuse of technology for genetically engineered microorganisms used to produce biofuels. U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, in a ruling filed June 19, denied Butamax’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Gevo’s fuel sales.

“The court finds it unlikely that plaintiff will prevail on its claim of infringement” at trial, Robinson wrote in a 25-page opinion in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. She also said that Gevo “raised a substantial question concerning validity” of two patent claims based on earlier inventions.

Gevo, based in Englewood, Colorado, is involved in several patent lawsuits with Wilmington-based Butamax. Gevo built a biofuels plant in Luverne, Minnesota, to produce renewable additives to be sold to oil refiners that make diesel and jet fuel. The Minnesota plant can also produce ethanol, according to court papers.

Based on the ruling, Gevo may sell fuels “in any market, to any customer, in any region,” the company said in a statement yesterday. Butamax officials said they plan to appeal.

“This is an early step in a long and complex litigation process,” Paul Beckwith, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a e-mailed statement. “We remain highly confident in the ultimate outcome of this case and our other cases against Gevo.”

New patents Gevo has secured on technology for genetically engineered microorganisms should give it a “significant cost advantage” in the animal-feed market, Rob Stone, an analyst at Cowen & Co. in Boston, said in a research note yesterday,

“We need to make sure we protect our intellectual property, so when Butamax is infringing, we’ve filed suit to protect that, and we’ll continue with that,” Brett Lund, Gevo’s general counsel, said yesterday in a telephone call with investors. A trial over the patent claims is set for April 1, 2013, according to court dockets.

The case is Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC v. Gevo Inc., 11-cv-54, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

For more patent news, click here.


SodaStream Takes Landfill Marketing Tactic to Coca-Cola Hometown

SodaStream International Ltd. already told Coca-Cola Co. it wouldn’t stop using Coke bottles in its marketing. Now SodaStream is taking the fight to the company’s front door -- or at least the park across the street from Coke’s World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta.

On June 22, SodaStream, which sells do-it-yourself soft-drink machines, plans to erect a car-sized cage at Centennial Olympic Park, filled with thousands of used soft-drink bottles and cans. The point: buying packaged drinks clogs up landfills, while making soda at home helps save the planet.

A similar display at a South Africa airport has drawn threats of a lawsuit by Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage maker with a market value of about $170 billion, 228 times larger than SodaStream. The upstart uses 30 such displays around the globe to take issue with the waste created by big soda companies.

“No one’s going to shut us up with a lawyer’s letter,” SodaStream Chief Executive Officer Daniel Birnbaum said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Not in South Africa or anywhere.”

After SodaStream, based in Airport City, Israel, refused to comply with a lawyer’s letter from Coca-Cola dated June 8, Coke hand delivered a second letter which Birnbaum got this week, he said. Coke went after a display at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and demanded all others be removed, as well, according to the first letter. The company alleged trademark infringement and a breach of local advertising standards.

SodaStream’s devices employ reusable bottles, rechargeable CO2 canisters and tap water, which Birnbaum says are more environmentally friendly. Its products are sold in 42 countries.

“Coca-Cola is a leader in recycling and sustainable packaging as demonstrated by our aggressive goal to collect the equivalent of 50 percent of the bottles and cans we sell globally by 2015,” the company said in a statement. Kent Landers, a spokesman, declined to comment further.

Vuitton Fake at Issue in ‘Hangover’ Film Excluded From U.S.

The fake version of the LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA bag that was at issue in the luxury-goods company’s trademark suit against Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Brothers Entertainment unit was the subject of proceedings before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

That Washington-based agency has the power to exclude imports that infringe U.S. patents and trademarks. Vuitton went to the ICT as “the first luxury goods company to seek redress” from the commission, the company said in a statement.

Vuitton’s suit against Warner was dismissed by a federal judge in Manhattan who said there was no likelihood that moviegoers would think a faux Vuitton bag was real just on a character’s say-so.

The luxury-goods company had argued that the placement of the fake bag in the film and the character’s reference to it as the real thing would confuse consumers as to the source of the product and that mistaken association would tarnish the company’s trademarks.

In its May 30 order, the ITC issued its order barring the importation of handbags, luggage, accessories and packaging that infringe any of five Vuitton trademarks.

That case is In the Matter of Certain Handbags, Luggage, Accessories, and Packaging Thereof, 337-754, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

The case against the film company is Louis Vuitton Malletier SA v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 1:11-cv-09436-ALC, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

For more trademark news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Hong Kong Court Dismisses Foxconn Request to Throw Out BYD Claim

Foxconn Technology Group lost an appeal to block BYD Co. from suing the Taiwanese electronics maker for gathering false evidence in a trade-secrets dispute.

Judge Robert Tang of the Hong Kong Court of Appeal handed down the judgment yesterday with appellate judges Joseph Fok and Carlye Chu. The decision upholds an August 2010 lower court ruling.

BYD, the Chinese car and battery maker partially owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., countersued Foxconn after units of the electronics maker filed a suit in 2007 that claimed BYD recruited Foxconn employees and stole trade secrets. BYD doubled its revenue from its handset business in 2005, 2006 and 2007 as a result, Foxconn said in court documents.

In its countersuit, BYD accused Foxconn of unlawful business interference, defamation and conspiracy to injure. Foxconn was involved in planting documents and coercing a former employee to confess he had stolen secrets, according to BYD’s filings in 2010.

Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of electronics, argued that BYD couldn’t show that the alleged acts caused any specific harm. Dominic Wai, a lawyer for Foxconn, declined to comment on whether the company would appeal further and ask the city’s top court to dismiss BYD’s countersuit.

“This is not a case where it is plain that the BYD Parties had not suffered any damage,” Judge Tang wrote in yesterday’s judgment.

BYD, which competes with Foxconn, became battery supplier to Apple Inc. last year. Foxconn assembles Apple’s iPhones and iPads.

Vincent Tong, a spokesman at handset-manufacturing unit Foxconn International in Hong Kong, couldn’t immediately say whether the company plans to appeal the ruling.

The case is CACV3/2011, BYD Co. and Shenzhen Futaihong Precision Industry Co. in the Court of Appeal.


Nigerian Officials Say No More Tolerance for Software Piracy

Nigeria’s Copyright Commission has warned it has a new policy of zero tolerance for software piracy, the country’s Vanguard News reported.

In 2011, Nigeria had a piracy rate of 82 percent, which caused a $250 million loss, the newspaper reported.

The commission recently conducted a raid on a real estate company in Lagos and seized counterfeit Microsoft Corp. software for which the raid targets couldn’t provide documentation, according to Vanguard News.

Fake products included Microsoft’s Windows XP, Vista, Office 2007 and Office 2010, and all were sent to Microsoft Ireland for confirmation, according to the newspaper.

Japan Lawmakers Consider Criminal Penalties for Infringement

Proposed amendments to Japan’s copyright law could criminalize the downloading of pirated content and those who transgress the law could end up serving a two-year prison term, Wired News reported.

If the measure is approved by lawmakers, it could go into effect at the beginning of 2013, according to Wired.

Under the new law making any copies of games or movies would be illegal, as would uploading or downloading the data they contained, Wired reported.

Takeshi Miyamoto, a member of the lower house, was the only legislator to speak against the bill, which is supported by Japan’s three major political parties, according to Wired.

For more copyright news, click here.

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