Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A patent-licensing company sued by Vermont officials for sending threatening letters has agreed not to target businesses in Minnesota, state Attorney General Lori Swanson said.
MPHJ Technology Investments LLC, which is registered in Wilmington, Delaware, claims that anyone who scans documents to be e-mailed infringes its patents for the technology. It has sent thousands of letters nationwide to companies and nonprofit organizations demanding as much as $1,200 per employee to avoid patent-infringement lawsuits.
The settlement limiting the firm’s ability to contact Minnesota residents and businesses is believed to be the first of its kind against a company derided as a “troll” for its licensing tactics, the state said yesterday. Vermont has sued the company under state consumer protection laws.
Retailers have reported a rise in letters demanding compensation for using common technology such as Wi-Fi connections to the Internet, tracking customer shipments and adding maps to website.
President Barack Obama has backed legislative proposals to curb lawsuits against users of technology and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering a broad inquiry into whether the tactics hamper innovation and competition.
To send any further letters to Minnesota businesses, MPHJ must give the attorney general’s office 60 days’ notice and obtain its consent, according to the agreement.
“They can’t do what they’ve been doing,” said Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the attorney general’s Office. “They’re going to have a steep, steep row to hoe to convince Attorney General Swanson they have something legitimate here.”
The agreement doesn’t restrict the company’s ability to file patent-infringement suits, nor does it involve any allegations of wrongdoing, MPHJ said in an e-mailed statement.
“MPHJ welcomes this review process, as the questions that have been raised by the Minnesota AG went to the form of MPHJ’s licensing and infringement inquiry letters, not the substance, and MPHJ prefers any such immaterial issues to be resolved in advance, so that it can focus on its lawful licensing activity without further interference,” according to the statement.
Apple Gets Patent on Touch Screen Gesture-Capture Technology
Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone and the IPad, received a patent on a technology that would capture the gestures of a user whose hands are hovering above a touch screen.
Patent 8,514,221 was issued yesterday, according to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
According to the patent, a two-dimensional object is presented in the user interface. The technology then detects movement in proximity to the screen’s surface, which will then generate a three-dimensional object that can be manipulated by the user through gestures.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, said the technology would be useful for computer-assisted design, providing a tool for generating and manipulating a three-dimensional object. Features of this interface “allow a user to quickly and intuitively generate, modify, and manipulate 3D objects and virtual 3D environments,” according to the patent.
Apple applied for the patent in July 2012 with assistance from Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.
Zynga Gets Patent for Managing Network-Linked Gambling Games
Zynga Inc., the San Francisco-based developer of games for social media, received a patent that points toward new directions for the company.
Patent 8,512,117 covers “methods and apparatus for managing network linked gambling video games.”
Zynga said the invention enables team play in video games with the transfer of currency, debiting the account of one player and crediting the account of another. Wagers can be made using the credited currency. Players use avatars that are displayed during the game.
The patent specifically mentions poker as a game for which the technology is suitable. In one form, the game could include a “bluff meter” that would calculate the likelihood of an opponent’s bluffing during a game, according to the patent. The bluff meter would use statistics compiled from earlier games.
Zynga applied for the patent in August 2012 with assistance from Martine Penilla Group LLP of Sunnyvale, California.
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EA Asks Appeals Court to Delay Ruling on College Athletes’ Suit
Electronic Arts Inc. urged a federal appeals court in California to put on hold a ruling that bars a First Amendment defense to lawsuits accusing the company of profiting from using likenesses of college athletes.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled the opposite in a similar case and said the company was constitutionally protected from claims by college athletes who allege EA violated their rights by using their likenesses in video games, company lawyers said in an Aug. 19 filing.
Electronic Arts intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review both rulings and asked that the July 31 decision by the San Francisco-based court, which takes effect Aug. 21, be put on hold for 90 days to allow the company to petition the high court, said Kelli Sager, an EA attorney, in the filing.
In a 2-1 ruling in a case brought in 2009 by former Arizona State University quarterback Sam Keller, the San Francisco-based court said EA wasn’t protected against Keller’s suit because its “NCAA Football” games, which use athletes’ height, weight, hair color and skin tone, though not their names, “literally creates Keller in the very setting in which he has achieved renown.”
Former student basketball and football players allege that Electronic Arts and the NCAA, the governing body of most U.S. intercollegiate sports, conspired to use their likenesses in video games without their permission and without paying them, violating antitrust law and their rights of publicity.
Robert Carey, an attorney representing Keller, said he opposes EA’s request. Once the ruling takes effect, Keller’s lawyers will begin requesting documents from EA to prepare for trial, he said by phone.
“We’ve been waiting a long, long time to proceed with the case,” Carey said.
The case is Keller v. Electronic Arts, 10-15387, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
Richemont’s Montblanc-Simplo Sues 10 Websites for Infringement
Richemont International SA’s Montblanc-Simplo unit, maker of luxury fountain pens that sell for as much as $1,150, sued 10 websites claim they infringe its trademarks.
The websites were registered by a resident of Nanjing, China, the Hamburg, Germany-based company said in the complaint filed Aug. 16 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
The domain names listed in the complaint all contain “montblanc” or “montblancpen,” and were so named “in a bad faith attempt to profit off of the fame, reputation and goodwill” of the Montblanc brand, the company said.
The accused websites aren’t used to sell genuine Montblanc products, according to court papers. Instead, Montblanc claims they are offering for sale “inferior products” that confuse consumers and tarnish the name of the company.
The company said that the websites’ operators haven’t responded to infringement notices or cease-and-desist letters sent to the contact information provided by the Internet domain registrar, as well as to the contact information identified on the various websites.
It asked the court to transfer the offending domain names to London-based Richemont and seeks an award of attorney fees.
The case is Montblanc-Simplo GmbH v. Achatstyleomontblanc.com, 1:13-cv-01013, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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NCS Pearson Victory in Copyright Case Over Test Upheld
NCS Pearson Inc., a provider of educational and testing software, properly defeated a physical therapist’s copyright claim over a psychological test, an appeals court ruled.
The U.S. Appeals Court in Denver on Aug. 19 affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Judith Copeland Cooper brought her copyright ownership claims too late.
The appeals court said that it was undisputed that Cooper became aware in 1996 that she wasn’t receiving royalties for the test, putting her on notice of the basis for a copyright co-ownership claim.
The statute of limitations for her to make her claim expired by 1999 at the latest, the appeals court said. Cooper sued Bloomington, Minnesota-based NCS Pearson in federal court in Denver in 2010.
The case is Cooper v. NCS Pearson Inc., 12-01096, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The lower court case is Cooper v. NCS Pearson Inc., 10-cv-02840, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado (Denver).
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