Google, True Religion, Hasbro: Intellectual Property

Google Inc. reached a deal with Belgian newspaper publishers, resolving a six-year copyright battle that had blocked the owner of the world’s most-used search engine from publishing links to local newspapers.

“We turn the page, we end the litigation and we’re starting afresh with a business partnership,” Thierry Geerts, managing director of Google Belgium, told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

The agreement was announced in a Google blog post yesterday. Under the accord, Google will pay the publishers’ legal fees, said Geerts, who declined to give an amount. Google won’t pay to include any of the Belgian content.

Google last year lost an appeal against a 2007 Belgian court ruling that forced the Mountain View, California-based company to remove links and snippets of articles from French-and German-language Belgian newspapers from and Google faced a daily fine of 25,000 euros ($32,700) for any delay in implementing the judgment.

Copiepresse, a Belgian group defending newspapers’ copyrights in the litigation, argued that the snippets generated revenue for the search engine and that publishers should be paid for the content. Copiepresse had a second suit pending that sought as much as 49.1 million euros for the period in which the newspapers’ content was visible on Google News.

Margaret Boribon, the secretary-general of Copiepresse, said the group was satisfied “to have been able to come to an accord that will put an end to all the proceedings.”

Google said “it is important to note” that it is not paying Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in its services. The company said it will work with Belgian French-language newspapers “on a broad range of business initiatives,” including the promotion of both Google’s and the publishers’ services and increasing accessibility to the newspapers’ content.

“This agreement comes at an important moment, in the midst of a debate how best the newspaper industry should adapt to the new digital age,” Google’s Geerts said in the blog post. “Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favor of collaboration.”

Google Receiving 2.5 Million Takedown Requests a Week

Google Inc. is removing 97.5 percent of all the URLs specified in copyright removal requests, according to a blog posting by Fred Von Lohmann, legal director at the Mountain View, California-based company.

He said the company will update every day its Transparency Report disclosing copyright removal requests it receives. The number of weekly requests has increased from 250,000 a year ago to more than 2.5 million, according to the report.

In the past month, Google received requests to remove more than 12 million URLs and 40,000 domains, according to the report. The Recording Industry Association of America had the most requests, asking that 2.4 million URLs be removed.

Nepal Will Enforce Copyright Act, Minister Tells Conference

Nepal’s minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation said his government is committed to dealing with copyright protection and infringement, the Himalayan Times reported.

Speaking at a Dec. 12 seminar organized by his government agency, Minister Posta Badahur Bogati said enforcement will cover music, movies and books, according to the newspaper.

Other organizers of the conference were the Nepal Copyright Register’s Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Himalayan Times reported.

Bogati said the government would take action under the Copyright Act 2059 BS, according to the Times.

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Cottage Industry of U.S. Patent Suits Shut Down by Appeals Court

A U.S. appeals court that once acknowledged it was creating a new cottage industry in patent litigation shut down that market yesterday.

Manufacturers won’t have to face lawsuits filed before September 2011 for posting expired patents on their products, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington ruled, in a decision posted on its website.

The court said Congress acted within its authority last year by enacting a law limiting those kinds of lawsuits and making the change retroactive, so that it applied to all pending litigation.

About a thousand lawsuits were filed against companies that had posted expired or irrelevant patents on their packaging after a 2009 Federal Circuit ruling created the potential for huge damage awards. The court said companies could be penalized as much as $500 for every item marked with a false patent number.

Kenneth Brooks, a California lawyer, filed suit against music-equipment maker Dunlop Manufacturing Inc. in September 2010, claiming that a winder used in replacing guitar strings was marked with a patent that had been invalidated and expired.

Brooks argued that Congress, in limiting the lawsuits, overstepped its authority by eliminating cases that were already under way. Pending cases, he said, should be allowed to proceed.

The cases were brought under a statute that let anyone file lawsuits on the theory that the general public had been harmed by misleading information. Under the law, damage awards were split 50-50 with the government. The Justice Department collected $7.56 million in damages from false marking suits in 2011 and $3.4 million in 2010, according to records on the agency’s website.

It was little used before the Federal Circuit’s 2009 ruling raised the prospects for astronomical damages. The court, which specializes in patent law, said at the time it could be creating a “cottage industry of false marking litigation.”

Elimination of the false-marking provision was part of an overhaul of the U.S. patent system signed by President Barack Obama on Sept. 16, 2011.

The case is Brooks v. Dunlop Manufacturing Inc., 12-1164, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Brooks v. Dunlop Manufacturing Inc., 10-4341, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Apple Defenses Over Two Samsung Patents Won’t Be Considered

Apple Inc. failed to persuade a federal judge to rule that two Samsung Electronics Co. patents are unenforceable because they allegedly were obtained through manipulation.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, said in an order yesterday that she won’t consider Apple’s legal arguments about the Samsung patents because a jury found that the iPad-maker hadn’t infringed them. Samsung has said the patents are essential to an industry standard for 3G mobile technology. It sued Apple last year, accusing it of infringement.

The jury found in Apple’s favor at trial. Still, Apple sought a ruling from Koh that the patents were unenforceable, alleging Samsung manipulated technology standard-setting processes to obtain them, according to court filings.

“Because the court finds that these defenses cannot affect the outcome of the present case in light of the jury’s finding of noninfringement, the court, in its discretion, will not consider these defenses at this time,” Koh said in her ruling.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, and Adam Yates, a spokesman for Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung, didn’t immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment on the decision.

The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., 11-cv-01846, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

For more patent news, click here.


True Religion Sues Websites It Claims Sell Infringing Jeans

True Religion Apparel Inc., the maker of blue jeans that cost as much as $350 a pair, sued 100 unidentified defendants for trademark infringement.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 12 in federal court in Chicago, targets Internet stores that are allegedly selling fake versions of the jeans. Vernon, California-based True Religion said in court papers that the websites are designed to appear falsely to be retailers of legitimate products.

Many of the defendant websites incorporate True Religion trademarks into their URLs, and may also include the clothing company’s copyright-protected content.

True Religion claims that many of the defendants are outside the country and ship the fakes into the U.S. “in small quantities to minimize detection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

Consumers are confused and the company is harmed by the defendants’ actions, the apparel company claims.

It asked the court to bar additional infringement, and to order Internet search engines, web hosts, social media sites, and domain name registries to “cease facilitating access” to the offending websites.

Additionally, the company asked for awards of profits the defendants realized from their alleged infringement, together with money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

The case is True Religion Apparel Inc. v. Does 1-100, 1:12-cv-09894, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

Hasbro Forces Shutdown of ‘My Little Pony’ Online Game Site

Hasbro Inc., the maker of Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head and Tinkertoys, persuaded a team of independent game developers to shut down their “My Little Pony” multiplayer online game, the developers said in a blog posting.

When the developers received their initial cease-and-desist notice from the Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based toymaker, they “initially dismissed this as it was most likely submitted by some trolls,” the developers said. They said they soon found the complaint to be “very real.”

Hasbro makes My Little Pony toys, which are plastic ponies with long manes and tails, mainly marketed to little girls.

The developers said that under U.S. trademark law, Hasbro had to defend its trademarks or risk losing them. “They had no choice in the matter, regardless of what they thought of the project or how it benefited them,” developers said in the blog posting.

They found no way to work around the issue, so suspended further development of the game and removed a link through which players could download it, they said.

The developers say they have now reorganized themselves as Starlight Studios, and are working on a new product that is pony-related. The new product is to be ready for Bronycon, the annual convention of My Little Pony fans, to be held in Baltimore in August 2013.

For more trademark news, click here.

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