Samsung, Bridgestone, Vuitton, BAT: Intellectual Property

Samsung Electronics Co. must stop importing some models of smartphones and tablet computers into the U.S. after President Barack Obama’s administration upheld a ban won by Apple Inc. in a patent-infringement dispute.

“After carefully weighing policy considerations, including the impact on consumers and competition, advice from agencies, and information from interested parties, I have decided to allow” the import ban to proceed, Obama’s designee, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, said in a statement yesterday.

The companies are the largest in the $279.9 billion global smartphone market, with Samsung holding the title of world’s biggest. Patent litigation on four continents, which has cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, has left no clear winner, with each seeking the biggest prize of limiting the other’s sales in the U.S.

The Korean company argued the ban ordered by the U.S. International Trade Commission should be overturned on public policy grounds, especially since a similar order it won against Apple’s iPhone 4S was thwarted by a presidential veto in August. Samsung can now seek a delay in the ban from a U.S. appeals court that will consider the entire case on legal grounds.

The administration said the nationality of the two companies “played no role in the review process.”

While Cupertino, California-based Apple typically has just four iPhone models on the market at any time, Samsung has dozens of handsets, led by its flagship Galaxy S4, which wasn’t part of the case. Apple could still argue that newer models still use the technology.

The import ban is on a limited number of products. The ITC said newer models by Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung had worked around two Apple patents, which covered a multi-touch feature and one for a sensor for headphone jacks.

“The order expressly states that these devices and any other Samsung electronic media devices incorporating the approved design-around technologies are not covered,” Froman said in the statement.

Samsung said it was disappointed in the decision.

“It will serve only to reduce competition and limit choice for the American consumer,” Adam Yates, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mail. Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had no comment.

Internet Patents to Appeal Dismissal of Infringement Suit

Internet Patents Corp., a company seeking to enforce some e-commerce patents, said it will appeal a federal court ruling dismissing a patent infringement case against a Tennessee-based insurance company.

Rancho Cordova, California-based Internet Patents sued General Automobile Insurance Services Inc. for patent infringement in federal court in San Francisco in September 2012, alleging infringement of its 7,707,505 patent, which was issued in April 2010.

Internet Patents claimed that the insurance company’s website infringed the patent, which covers dynamic tables for a graphic user interface.

The insurance company responded to the complaint, saying that the patent was invalid because what it purported to cover wasn’t what U.S. patent law considered valid subject matter.

In a Sept. 24 order, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White agreed. He said that the patent added no elements or combinations of elements that were sufficient to ensure that it covered more than an abstract idea.

The patent holder “has failed to show how the desired result of the patent is coupled with or integrated into a specific process,” the judge said.

In an Oct. 7 statement, Internet Patents said that it considers that the court didn’t apply the law on patent eligibility correctly and “misconstrued the substance of the technology” covered by the patent.

The California company said it will file an appeal to the Washington-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The case is Internet Patents Corp. v. General Automobile Insurance Services Inc., 12-cv-05036, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Google Seeks Patent on Method of Splitting Restaurant Check

Google Inc., creator of the most-used Internet search engine, applied for a patent on what is essentially a method of splitting restaurant checks.

Application 20130262294, published Oct. 3 in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database of pending applications, covers what Mountain View, California-based Google calls a method of “tracking and managing group expenditures.”

Google said when people dine out, one member of the group usually pays the bill out of convenience and expects to be paid back by the others. When some members forget or fail to pay the bill “this is unfair for the group member who paid the bill,” according to the application.

The company said that the technology covered by the patent application fills a need for “an efficient way to track group expenditures and settle balances between group members.”

The system requires a computer program product and a computer system with a tracking module that can “maintain a transaction record for the group that includes a plurality of payment transactions.” The program contains a settlement module that initiates a transfer of funds between a first and second user when a “settling event” occurs.

Google applied for the patent in March 2012.

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Bridgestone Says Tire-Lettering Kits Infringe Trademark

Bridgestone Corp.’s Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations unit sued a Wisconsin maker of lettering for tires for trademark infringement.

Iron Cross Innovations LLC of North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, sells lettering kits that allow buyers to glue Bridgestone’s logo onto tire sidewalls, according to the complaint filed Oct. 4 in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.

The kits can be used regardless of whether the tires are new, used or made by a competitor, Chuo-ku, Japan-based Bridgestone said in its complaint. In 2011, Iron Cross approached Bridgestone, seeking a license allowing the use of the Japanese company’s logo for the kits.

Bridgestone said it refused and asked, to no avail, that Iron Cross not make lettering kits containing the Bridgestone logo. The tire company said in its pleadings that defects in the kits’ letters, improper application of the logo and placement of the logo on non-Bridgestone products “will be wrongly attributed” to Bridgestone.

This will damage the tire company and cause customer confusion, Bridgestone said. The Japanese company said it operates more than 2,000 directly owned and operated outlets in North America and employs more than 45,000 people.

Bridgestone cited its efforts to promote its trademark in the U.S., including buying commercials during the National Football League’s Super Bowl broadcast, and sponsorship of auto-racing events.

The company requested a court order barring the further use of its mark by Iron Cross, the surrender of all infringing products and promotional materials, and awards of money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

Additionally, Bridgestone asked that Iron Cross be ordered to start a campaign of corrective advertising and pay additional damages as punishment for its actions.

There is “no basis” for Bridgestone’s accusations, Iron Cross spokesman Chad Gantner said in an e-mail. Iron Cross hasn’t used the tire company’s logo nor “have we claimed to be Bridgestone,” he said.

The case is Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC v. Iron Cross innovations LLC, 3:13-cv-01092, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee (Nashville).

Louis Vuitton Says Sogo Hong Kong Sells Infringing Merchandise

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, the French producer of luxury goods, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Sogo Hong Kong department store, the Hong Kong Standard reported.

The company said in its pleadings that it wanted a wide range of infringing merchandise as well as promotional materials seized and destroyed, according to the newspaper.

The court filing didn’t name the Sogo products that allegedly infringed the marks, the Standard reported.

Additionally, the Paris-based company requested Sogo’s profits attributable to the alleged infringement, according to the Hong Kong newspaper.

EU Parliament Dilutes Proposal for Tougher Tobacco Rules

The European Parliament scaled back plans for more stringent regulation of the tobacco industry, setting up a clash with national governments over draft legislation meant to curb smoking in Europe.

The European Union assembly rejected a proposal to regulate nicotine-containing goods like electronic cigarettes as medicines, opting instead to apply rules on general product safety. It also failed to endorse a requirement for plain packaging such as Australia has already adopted.

As part of a plan to ban the sale of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco with characterizing flavors, the 28-nation Parliament also voted to phase out menthol cigarettes over eight years rather than three years agreed by EU governments.

Linda McAvan, a U.K. Socialist who steered the draft law through the EU Parliament and opposed the looser provisions for electronic and menthol cigarettes, expressed satisfaction that the assembly upheld two central positions of governments regarding labels. These would require that cigarette packages feature a combined pictorial and text alert covering 65 percent of the front and back and that the health warnings appear at the top of the packs. Under current EU rules, anti-smoking images on packages are optional while text warnings are mandatory.

“This is a big step forward compared to the status quo,” McAvan, who defeated other amendments to limit the pictorial and text warning to 50 percent of the packages and allow the health warnings to appear at the bottom, told reporters after the vote yesterday in Strasbourg, France.

British American Tobacco Plc, Europe’s largest cigarette maker, praised what it called “sensible modifications” by the European parliamentarians to the draft EU law while saying it is still too tough.

“Health warnings covering more than half of the cigarette pack goes well beyond what is needed to fully inform consumers of the health risks and a ban on mentholated cigarettes will only increase the demand for black-market goods,” London-based BAT said in an e-mailed statement.

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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Clement Says Canada Reaching Out to Brazil on Spying Issue

Canadian Treasury Board President Tony Clement said his government is reaching out to Brazil, citing concerns over allegations of industrial espionage.

Clement made the comments after Foreign Relations Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo protested to Canada’s ambassador in Brasilia over the alleged spying by Canadian intelligence service on Brazil’s Energy Ministry. Clement’s comments echo statements made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Indonesia, where he was attending a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Brazil’s Globo TV on Oct. 6 reported that the U.S. and Canadian governments spied on the country’s energy ministry, citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

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