Coronavirus, Playboy, C&C, Argo: Intellectual Property

The novel coronavirus found in Saudi Arabia has been patented by scientists outside the country, Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish told the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The virus was sent from the country without proper permission, Memish yesterday told the assembly, the top decision-making body of the World Health Organization. Companies that make antivirals and vaccines have already signed deals with the patent holder, Memish said.

Albert Osterhaus and Ron Fouchier, scientists at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said they patented the coronavirus, calling the process a “normal thing to do.” No agreements have been signed with any companies and they are sharing the virus freely with other laboratories that request it, they said in an interview.

The virus has sickened at least 44 people globally since last year, including 22 deaths. In a Saudi Arabian outbreak, at least 10 deaths have been reported, according to the WHO. Laboratory-confirmed cases have also been reported in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, France, the U.K., Germany and Tunisia, the United Nations health agency said.

Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to SARS, which sickened more than 8,000 people in 2002 and 2003, according to the WHO. While the new virus is related to the one that causes SARS, it appears far less transmissible, the WHO has said.

Google Loses Bid to Block U.S. Imports of Microsoft’s Xbox

Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox video-gaming system won’t be blocked from entering the U.S. after a trade panel found it doesn’t infringe a patent owned by Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility unit.

The U.S. International Trade Commission yesterday in Washington found the Xbox doesn’t infringe Motorola’s patent for a way to establish communication between the gaming-system and accessories, such as the controllers, ending a case that was filed in November 2010. The agency upheld a March ruling that cleared the Xbox of the infringement claim.

The case is part of a larger dispute between the two companies over who is using whose patented inventions. Microsoft wants Motorola Mobility to pay royalties on smartphones that run on Google’s Android operating system. Google claims Microsoft owes Motorola Mobility royalties on the Xbox and the Windows operating system.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, has argued that, even if it violates the Motorola patent, banning the Xbox would be an extreme remedy that would reduce consumer choice and hurt game developers.

The Xbox has been the top seller in U.S. consoles for more than two years. Microsoft’s entertainment unit, which includes the Xbox, generated $9.6 billion in sales last year, or 13 percent of the company’s revenue, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Microsoft unveiled a new version, called Xbox One, earlier this week that employs voice commands and motion sensing to recognize users and let them switch seamlessly between games, live television and Skype video calling.

The system is scheduled to go on sale later this year as part of Microsoft’s strategy to fend off competition from Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Co.’s Wii U, as well as new devices from Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Inc.

Microsoft won a trade commission case last year limiting Motorola Mobility’s ability to include on its phones a feature called ActiveSync, which lets users coordinate schedules between their phones and personal computers.

The case is In the Matter of Gaming and Entertainment Consoles, Related Software and Components Thereof, 337-752, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

For more patent news, click here.


Playboy’s Bunny Can Remain on Energy Drink for Now, Court Says

Playboy Enterprises failed to win a court order that would bar the use of the Playboy rabbit trademark on an energy drink made by a unit of CirTran Corp.

In a May 15 ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman said that the trademark and licensing-contract dispute in his court must be stayed until resolution of a parallel action in Illinois state court.

The dispute between West Valley City, Utah-based CirTran and Playboy has also played out in federal bankruptcy court. Origins of the conflict are a 2006 license granting CirTran’s Play Beverages unit a license to use the Playboy name and bunny-head logo on its product.

The parties “characterize the terms of the license agreement slightly differently,” leading to the court cases, Gettleman said in his ruling. CirTran alleged that Playboy disrupted its business operations and distribution networks, and Playboy said CirTran violated the terms of the license and thus was no longer authorized to use the logo and trademark.

Given that the state court had initial jurisdiction over the dispute, and has “invested significant time in familiarizing itself with the facts of this dispute and has advanced greater discover and ruled on substantive motions,” the judge put the federal case on hold.

Because the case is stayed, Gettleman rejected Playboy’s request for a court order barring CirTran’s use of the marks. His ruling was without prejudice, opening the door to a future request from Chicago-based Playboy once the state-court case is resolved.

Playboy was acquired by Icon Acquisition Holdings Inc. in March 2011.

The case is Playboy Enterprises International Inc. v. Play Beverages LLC, 13-cv-00826, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

C&C Unit Seeks to Halt Coffee Roaster’s Use of Woodchuck Logo

C&C Group Plc’s Vermont Hard Cider unit, a maker of the largest-selling brand of fermented apple cider beverages in the U.S., sued a Vermont coffee roaster for trademark infringement.

According to the complaint filed in federal court in Rutland, Vermont, Woodchuck Coffee Roasters of South Burlington is accused of infringing the cider company’s “woodchuck” trademarks.

Vermont Hard Cider has been selling hard cider under the Woodchuck brand since 1991, the company said. It has used the mark on a wide range of promotional products and in ads in addition to the product label. It initially registered the Woodchuck trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2001, and has several subsequent registrations and one pending application.

The company claims that the coffee roaster is using a label that is “strikingly similar” to the one used on the cider products, both containing a woodchuck -- a member of the ground-squirrel family -- sitting on its haunches. The only differences, the cider company says, is that the coffee company’s woodchuck is holding a coffee cup, while the woodchuck on the cider label is holding an apple.

Woodchuck Coffee Roasters’ use of a similar name and logo will “inevitably” cause consumer confusion, the cider company said. Already it has begun to receive queries from some customers about whether it has gone into the coffee business.

Vermont Cider claims the coffee roaster’s use of the woodchuck name and logo is willful and deliberate, part of efforts to have instant brand recognition and to trade on the cider company’s reputation and goodwill.

The two companies have engaged in discussions to no avail, with the coffee roaster taking the position that once the Vermont secretary of state approved the business name, it had the “absolute right” to use the woodchuck marks with its coffee, Vermont Cider said in its pleadings.

Following C&C Group’s acquisition of Vermont Cider in December, Woodchuck Coffee “suddenly demanded a six-figure monetary payment for ceasing use of the Woodchuck marks,” according to court papers.

The coffee roaster didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment.

Vermont Cider asked the court for an order halting further infringement of its marks and for the destruction of all infringing items, together with awards of money damages, attorney fees, litigation costs and the cost of remedial advertising.

The case is Vermont Hard Cider Co. v. Woodchuck Coffee Roasters LLC, 13-cv-00078, U.S. District Court, District of Vermont (Rutland).

For more trademark news, click here.


Dotcom Wants Patent-Licensing Revenue to Fund Court Fight

Kim Dotcom, the founder of the cloud-storage service, is claiming he holds a patent on a method of securing online services known as two-factor authentication and he’d like some licensing income from companies that use the technology, Cnet News reported.

Presently fighting extradition from New Zealand to the U.S. in a criminal copyright case, Dotcom said that while he believed in sharing knowledge and ideas for the good of humanity, he might file a patent-infringement case because he needs the money for his legal defense, according to Cnet News.

Dotcom’s patent 6,078,908 was issued to him in June 2000 under his former name, Kim Schmitz, the news service reported.

He used Twitter Inc.’s short-message service to say that he would use licensing revenue from the patent to fight the criminal copyright case to the end because he’s innocent of the charges, according to Cnet News.

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

BankcorpSouth Bank, Argo Data Case Won’t Move to State Court

BankcorpSouth Bank of Tupelo, Mississippi, and Richardson, Texas-based Argo Data Resource Corp.’s removal of a trade secrets case from Texas state court to federal court was appropriate, a federal judge in Dallas ruled.

Spear Marketing Inc. of Dallas sued the two companies in August, claiming they misappropriated trade secrets related to a cash-management system known as VaultWorks.

The two defendants sought removal of the case to federal court, claiming that all the claims made against them were pre-empted by federal copyright law.

Spear Marketing opposed the removal and sought to have the case returned to state court. It argues that its claims of trade-secret theft fell outside copyright law’s subject matter.

In her May 16 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle ruled that the trade-secret theft claims were based, at least partly, on the alleged reproduction, distribution or display of Spear Marketing’s trade secrets and confidential information. They were therefore “equivalent and at least partly preempted by the Copyright Act,” she said.

As a result, she denied Spear Marketing’s request to move the case back to state court.

The case is Spear Marketing Inc. v. BankcorpSouth Bank, 12-cv-00358, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).


Oblon Spivak Firm’s Name Partner Gregory J. Maier Dies

Gregory J. Maier, name partner in Alexandria, Virginia’s Oblon Spivak McClelland Maier & Neustadt LLP died yesterday, the firm said in a statement.

Maier, who was born in 1943, had served both as president of the IP specialty firm and as managing partner of its electrical and mechanical patent-prosecution groups. He also was a past chairman of the American Bar Association’s Section of Intellectual Property Law.

Before he was a lawyer, he was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and worked at the Office of Naval Research.

He had an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester and a law degree from Georgetown University.

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