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Transocean, Alcatel-Lucent, Google: Intellectual Property

Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest offshore rig contractor, won an appeals court ruling that reinstates a $15 million jury verdict against shipping company A.P. Moeller Maersk A/S over a way to drill wells.

A trial judge was wrong to throw out the jury verdict, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said in a decision posted on its website yesterday. “Transocean presented substantial evidence” to back the jury’s April 2011 decision upholding the patents, the appeals court said.

The dispute, first filed in 2007, is over Transocean’s dual-activity technology, which lets a single derrick on a rig perform parallel drilling operations to save time and money. Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean had claimed three patents were infringed by a rig Maersk was building for use by Norway’s Statoil ASA in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Maersk was aware of Transocean’s patents and its drillships embodying the patents while Maersk designed its accused rig,” the three-judge appellate panel ruled. “The evidence also shows that Maersk decided to incorporate the claimed dual-activity feature anyway because it believed Transocean’s patents were invalid.”

The case has bounced between the trial court and the Federal Circuit for years. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston in 2009 said the patents were invalid, only to have the appeals court revive the case a year later.

“We welcome this news and continue to stand by our patented dual-activity technology,” said Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for Transocean.

Transocean settled similar claims against Pride International Inc. and Noble Corp. over the patents.

Officials with Copenhagen-based Maersk didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. v. Maersk Drilling USA Inc., 2011-1555, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. v. Maersk Contractors USA Inc., 07-cv-02392, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Houston).

Alcatel-Lucent May Sell Patents to Boost Balance Sheet, CFO Says

Alcatel-Lucent SA, the French phone-equipment maker considering asset sales to bolster its finances, is weighing a sale of some of its secondary patents as it seeks ways out of a streak of quarterly losses and a shrinking cash pile, its chief financial officer said yesterday.

“We can look to monetize that portfolio through licensing, through limited sales if those patents aren’t part of our core and a few other things,” Paul Tufano said in an interview at a conference organized by Morgan Stanley in Barcelona. “We look at all of the above.”

Alcatel-Lucent, based in Paris, has almost 30,000 patents and 15,000 patent applications pending, Tufano said.

“It’s a broad variety of technologies that we cover,” he said. “I think it’s very attractive and there’s a lot of interest and there could be a lot of interest from a lot of different sources.”

Chief Executive Officer Ben Verwaayen, in his fifth year in the job, is struggling to turn Alcatel-Lucent around as European phone companies spend less and Asian rivals add pressure. With more than 2 billion euros of debt due over the next three years, the former BT Group Plc CEO is pressed to do more as thousands of job cuts have failed to stem losses.

Verwaayen’s efforts to shore up cash flow so far included a licensing agreement announced in February, which the company expects will deliver several hundred million euros. The company has yet to disclose any revenue from the contract.

The CEO has so far said that the company would not look to sell its patents, which include voice-recognition and video-conferencing technology.

For more patent news, click here.


Rocker Young Raises $500,000 for Pono System to Challenge MP3s

Neil Young, the rock singer who said he was prepared to brave “treacherous” venture capital markets to popularize his high-fidelity format for downloading music, raised $500,000 from an investment group last month.

Ivanhoe Inc., a Santa Monica, California-based company that lists Young as chief executive officer, got the money from 12 investors, according to an Oct. 29 regulatory filing. Young filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in June to register the trademark Ivanhoe in connection with online music distribution.

The musician, a two-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who co-founded the band Buffalo Springfield and played in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before going solo, plans to roll out an audio system called Pono as a higher-quality alternative to digital formats such as MP3. Young, writing in a new memoir that he has “big ideas and very little money to show for them,” said he would finance Pono by turning to investment firms that typically back technology startups.

“All I have to do now is navigate the waters of venture capitalism, those treacherous shorelines of commerce, in the HMS Pono,” Young wrote in “Waging Heavy Peace” (Blue Rider Press, 512 pages, $30), published in September by an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. “I can’t tell you how scary this is,” Young added, saying he has never been “on this vessel, in these waters, with the cargo on board.”

Last month’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission didn’t identify the investors or disclose whether the money came from friends and family, venture capital firms or angel investors.

Ivanhoe, incorporated in December in Delaware, is the vehicle Young is using to bring his technology to market, according to Mark Goldstein, who said he served as the company’s CEO for about six months and is now an adviser.

Elliot Roberts, the record executive who has served as Young’s manager for decades, is listed as an Ivanhoe director in last month’s SEC filing. Another director, according to the filing, is Gisele “Gigi” Brisson, the co-founder of Attractor Investment Management Inc., a Seattle-based money manager that makes angel investments in high-tech startups.

Young decided to brand his concept Pono, which he says is Hawaiian for “righteous and good,” after discovering that his original choice, PureTone, was already in use, according to the singer’s memoir. Warner Music Group, the parent company for Young’s record label, has agreed to make its catalog of songs available on Pono, the New York Times reported in September.

Google Tells Doogle Website Operator Name Must be Changed

Google Inc., operator of the world’s most used search engine, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the South African operator of a website aimed at helping job seekers find employment, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Andries Maree Van Der Merwe, 23, who started his website in 2011, said the name for his website “just popped into my head,” according to the Guardian.

The cease and desist letter told Van Der Merwe that the similarity of the two names would likely cause the public to assume, falsely, that the two entities were connected, the Guardian reported.

He hired a lawyer who plans to challenge the Mountain View, California-based search-engine company and claims that the services offered by her client are readily distinguishable from Google’s, according to the Guardian.

Miss Pittsburgh Pageant Owner Sues Over Gay Miss Pittsburghs

The owner of a Miss Pittsburgh beauty pageant sued the owners of a gay bar and the publisher of a gay-oriented magazine for trademark infringement.

Michelle J. Alexander of Pittsburgh filed the lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court Nov. 13, claiming that the Miss Pittsburgh Pride and Miss Pittsburgh Trash events infringed her trademarks.

She said in her pleadings that she’s held the “Miss Pittsburgh” trademark since 1998, and that the pageants tied to the gay-oriented businesses harmed her business reputation and caused her to lose customers’ trust and confidence.

Permitting the competing pageants to use her mark without authorization would harm the purpose of her pageants, Alexander said, namely to enable “young women to achieve great levels of educational opportunities and to become empowered with life sustaining skills.”

She asked the court to bar the competing pageants’ use of her mark, and for awards of money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

One defendant in the case, Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment. The Associated Press reported that a foundation spokesperson denied that Delta sponsored the alternative pageants.

The case is Alexander v. Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, GD-12-021024, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County (Pittsburgh).

For more trademark news, click here.


Mississippian Gets 15-Year Sentence in Criminal Copyright Case

A resident of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, received a 15-year prison sentence following a guilty plea in a criminal copyright case in state court, according to a statement from the Mississippi attorney general.

Patrick Lashun King, 37, pleaded guilty in Copiah County Circuit Court to six felony counts of selling pirated DVDs and CDs. In addition to the 15-year sentence, King will have three years of supervised release, according to the statement.

A search of King’s store and home by an undercover investigator from the attorney general’s Intellectual Property Theft Task Force yielded 10,510 pirated discs, together with the equipment used to make the copies. Additionally, the attorney general said police found and confiscated several weapons, including an assault rifle.

King was previously prosecuted for compact-disc piracy in 2003 and sentenced to one year in the Mississippi Department of Corrections Intensive Supervision/House Arrest Program.

The state’s Intellectual Property Theft Task Force was established with the assistance of a grant from the U.S. Justice Department.

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Oaktree’s GT Solar Settles Trade-Secret Misappropriation Case

Oaktree Capital Group LLC’s GT Solar unit, a New Hampshire-based producer of material for solar energy plants, settled a trade-secrets case against a former employee of a company it hired to help build a chemical vapor decomposition furnace used to make the solar cells.

In June 2008, GT Solar sued Fabrizio Goi, a former employee of Italy’s VRV SpA, in federal court in Concord, New Hampshire. According to court papers, when Goi worked for VRV, he had access to the New Hampshire company’s plant and acquired “valuable proprietary information” about its business.

Goi left VRV and joined Poly Plant Project Inc., of Burbank, California, a competitor to GT Solar, the company said in its filing. GT claimed that the California company built its furnace based on knowledge Goi brought from the New Hampshire company without authorization.

In the settlement document filed Nov. 9, the parties dismissed all claims and counterclaims and said they would pay their own litigation costs and attorney fees. No other details of the settlement were disclosed.

The case is GTAT Corp v. Goi, 08-cv-249, U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire (Concord).

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