Apple, InterDigital, China Trade, IFixit : Intellectual Property

Apple Inc. and Oracle Corp. won a judge’s order separating and putting on hold a dispute between them about indemnification until a patent-infringement case against Apple by U.S. Ethernet Innovations LLC is resolved.

Apple was sued for patent infringement by U.S. Ethernet Innovations in 2009. The iPhone maker said in court filings that some of the patent claims involve technology that Apple licensed in 1998 from Sun Microsystems Inc. under an agreement that obligated Sun to indemnify Apple for any patent claims over the technology.

Apple filed a complaint in April in federal court in Oakland, California, seeking a judge’s order that Oracle, which acquired Sun, make good on that agreement.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said in a Dec. 18 order that Apple’s claims and Oracle’s counterclaims depended heavily on the outcome of underlying litigation involving other companies. In granting a joint request by Apple and Oracle, she said separating their dispute as a new lawsuit and putting it on hold served the interest of “judicial economy.”

Deborah Hellinger, a spokeswoman for Redwood City, California-based Oracle, had no immediate comment on the ruling. Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, declined to comment on it.

The underlying case is U.S. Ethernet Innovations LLC v. Acer Inc., 10-03724, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

InterDigital Loses Nokia-Huawei Patent Case at Trade Agency

InterDigital Inc., the mobile-phone design company, lost a patent-infringement case at a U.S. trade agency against Nokia Oyj, Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp.

The U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington upheld findings from June, with modifications. Nokia’s Lumia phones, Huawei’s MediaPad 7 Lite and Fiji, and ZTE’s Flash and Merit models could have been banned from the U.S. market if InterDigital had won. The notice was posted Dec. 19 on the ITC’s website.

The case escalated beyond a patent dispute when InterDigital Chief Executive Officer William Merritt said Chinese regulators threatened to arrest or detain anyone who showed up for a Dec. 18 meeting to discuss Huawei’s antitrust complaints against his company in the U.S., Europe and China. Merritt told China’s National Development and Reform Commission no one would attend.

Huawei and ZTE are China’s two largest makers of phone-network equipment. Both are based in Shenzhen, China.

“From the start of this litigation, Huawei has been confident that it would prevail against InterDigital’s baseless claims of infringement,” said William Plummer, a Huawei spokesman. “Huawei is pleased to see the commissioners agree that InterDigital’s claims are without merit.”

The dispute is also part of a broader debate in the technology sector over how to treat patents that relate to fundamental inventions used across platforms. InterDigital, based in Wilmington, Delaware, helped create industrywide standards for mobile-phone technology, so was obligated to license relevant patents on fair and non-discriminatory terms.

InterDigital, which owns more than 1,700 U.S. patents related to wireless technology, said the companies used its inventions that activate idle phones, control power, and transmit and display data.

A second case against the companies is pending at the agency and is scheduled to be completed next year. Merritt said the case is “technically strong” because some of the patents have already been reviewed by an appeals court. InterDigital’s first case against Nokia, which it lost at the agency, was revived last year by an appeals court.

The case is In the Matter of Certain Wireless Devices with 3G Capabilities and Components Thereof, 337-800, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

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Pritzker Raises U.S. Concern on Company Treatment in China

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the U.S. is pushing China to provide fairer treatment for foreign companies that operate in the Asian country as the world’s two largest economies concluded trade talks in Beijing.

Pritzker, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack led the American delegation to Beijing for the latest round of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade talks. While the U.S. and Chinese economies are increasingly intertwined, their relations have grown tense over commerce in autos, clean-energy manufacturing, farm products, rare-earths elements and intellectual-property protection.

Foreign companies from baby-food maker Danone to Apple Inc. have been targeted by state media or regulators in China on pricing and local practices this year. Qualcomm Inc., the world’s largest maker of chips for smartphones, said last month the National Development and Reform Commission began a probe related to an anti-monopoly law, the latest international brand to draw scrutiny from the Chinese government.

Burberry Group Plc, the U.K.’s largest luxury-goods maker, said last month it is appealing a decision by Chinese regulators to restrict the company’s trademark on its hallmark checkered pattern for leather goods. Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee chain, drew criticism from China Central Television in October for setting higher prices than in other markets.

Commercial deals announced at the talks include a memorandum of understanding between Honeywell International Inc. and Shanghai New Changning Group Co. to use the U.S. company’s electric-grid technologies that manage energy demand in a pilot project.

President Barack Obama said he will nominate Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, as the next ambassador to China. Baucus, who would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, is the Senate’s top official on trade policy.

The U.S. Economic and Security Review Commission, which provides advice to Congress, said in a report last month that the Chinese government “is directing a large-scale cyber espionage campaign against the United States,” targeting private companies and government networks.

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IFixit’s Wiens Says Copyright Claims on Manuals Add to E-Waste

The founder of a California company created to provide free repair manuals for electronic devices says in an opinion piece in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper that tech companies’ copyright claims on their repair manuals contributes to a rising tide of electronic waste.

Kyne Wiens, of San Luis Obispo, California-based Ifixit Inc., said in his article in the Guardian that while manufacturers of computers, mobile phones appliances and cars create repair manuals for the products they produce, they are using copyright law to keep the manuals away from the public.

When such manuals appear on the Internet, the tech companies have filed takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Wiens said in the Guardian.

The only result of such actions by the companied, Wiens said, is that neither the owners of the products nor independent repair shops can fix products, which means that more products will be thrown away or shredded for recycling, preventing reuse.

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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Six Chinese Accused of Stealing Genetically Modified DuPont Corn

Chinese nationals were indicted in Iowa on charges of plotting to steal genetically modified seeds worth tens of millions of dollars to Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co.

The indictments follow the arrest this month of Mo Hailong, director of international business at Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., part of the Beijing-based DBN Group, who was accused of stealing trade secrets after he was found digging in a Iowa cornfield. The indictment of Mo and five others connected to DBN, filed on Dec. 17, was unsealed Dec. 19 in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa.

The U.S. alleges that Mo and the other defendants stole inbred corn seed from production fields in Iowa and Illinois to benefit Kings Nower Seed, DBN’s corn seed unit. Inbred lines, developed by scientists to have particular traits such as resistance to herbicides, are crossbred with other lines to develop hybrid seeds, the U.S. said.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants stole from DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit, Monsanto and AgReliant Genetics LLC’s LG Seeds subsidiary. They “intended to convert a trade secret” for the economic benefit of someone other than the U.S. seed companies, prosecutors said.

In May 2012, Mo and two other defendants “attempted to ship approximately 250 pounds of corn seed, packaged in 42 five-gallon zip-lock bags contained in five separate boxes,” from Illinois to Hong Kong, according to the indictment.

Mo’s attorney, Valentin Rodriguez Jr., didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the indictment.

He said earlier that Mo had “no intention to commit any crime” and that the government hadn’t been able to prove that any of the seeds were proprietary to Monsanto or DuPont.

Kings Nower Seed didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail.

The case is U.S. v. Li, 13-cr-00147, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa (Des Moines).

Access to Lost Rabbit Settlement Study Denied Mississippi Mayor

The mayor of Madison, Mississippi, asked county officials for a copy of a report on a real estate development near her town, and was told the study conducted for Madison County was a protected trade secret, Mississippi’s Madison Town Journal reported.

The report covers Lost Rabbit, a 260-acre development near the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Ross Barnett Reservoir, according to the newspaper.

Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler was seeking the study covering the restructuring of Lost Rabbit, in the wake of securities litigation, the newspaper reported.

Mike Espy, attorney for the Madison County Board of Supervisors, said Hawkins-Butler’s request was denied because it covered attorney work product related to litigation that cannot be revealed until Allstate Corp., a party to the suit, approves the settlement, according to the Town Journal.

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