Hitachi Metals, Ford, Rooibos: Intellectual Property

July 29 (Bloomberg) -- Some Chinese producers of rare-earth magnets are seeking to use this month’s expiration of a key patent held by Hitachi Metals Ltd. to expand exports of the element used in products from motors to smartphones.

The demise of a 17-year-old patent that defines the structure of such magnets paves the way for previously blocked Chinese producers to sell to U.S. customers, said Sun Baoyu, chairman of Shenyang General Magnetic Co. The company has formed an alliance with six Chinese producers to promote their products and fight Hitachi over other patents that the Japanese company says largely prevent rivals from making magnets.

The end of the patent will pit the seven producers in the alliance and potentially others who try to tap into the market against Hitachi and eight Chinese companies that have paid for the right to make and ship the magnet. An increase in exporters of the magnets could cut prices of the product used in Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Toyota Motor Corp. hybrid-electric cars.

Hitachi holds more than 600 patents for rare-earth magnets globally, some of which it acquired after taking over Sumitomo Special Metals Co. in the 2000s, said spokesman Akio Minami.

“The company considers it’s almost impossible for other companies to commercially manufacture the magnets if avoiding all of our patent network,” said Minami, “Since we don’t know details of action by the seven Chinese companies, we refrain from making comments on this matter.”

For more patent news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Ford Fires Engineer After Listening Devices Found

The Ford Motor Co. has found listening devices installed at its Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters and is investigating a former engineer for possible industrial espionage, Automotive News reported.

The company suspects that trade secrets may have been misappropriated by way of recording devices hidden in company conference rooms, according to Automotive News.

A company spokeswoman told Automotive News that Ford has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist. The employee hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Counsel for the employee, who Ford reported was terminated after the listening devices were found, said she had done nothing wrong and the gear was used only to augment her note-taking at meetings, according to Automotive News.


Luxottica’s Oakley Unit Sues Over Counterfeit Sunglasses Sales

Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley unit sued a group of unnamed defendants for trademark infringement, accusing them of selling “low-quality unlicensed counterfeit Oakley products to unknowing consumers.”

The Milan-based maker of high-end designer eyeglass frames and sunglasses filed the suit in Chicago federal court July 25. The company said in its complaint that the defendants have similar website designs and similar fake products for sale, suggesting they may be related.

Oakley provided the court with a list of the defendants, filed under seal, and said they are operating Internet stores, often under website names that incorporate Oakley’s trademarks. The websites often contain images Oakley said are its own and are protected by copyrights. Consumers are finding it “very difficult” to distinguish sites selling fakes from the authorized retailers.

The websites are accepting payment via Western Union, credit card and PayPal and are shipping the counterfeit products in small quantities through international mail with the aim of avoiding detection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the company said in its pleadings.

Some legitimate Oakley sunglasses sell for as much as $4,000.

The case is Oakley Inc. v. Partnerships and Unincorporated Associations Identified on Schedule A, 14-cv-0571, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

EU Gives ‘Rooibos’ Designation to South African Tea Producers

The South African Rooibos Council, which represents producers of a variety of tea produced in that country, has successfully challenged a French attempt to register “Rooibos” as a trademark, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported.

The tea, which has been touted for a number of health benefits, has been used in South Africa for generations and is now popular in Europe and the U.S., according to the newspaper.

Now that the European Union has awarded the geographic indicator status to South African tea manufacturers, suppliers say they will try to enter the Asian market with the product, the Guardian reported.

For more trademark news, click here.


Australia Seeks Comment on Proposed Copyright Legislation

Proposed copyright legislation in Australia would permit content owners to seek court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to websites outside of the country that enable copyright infringement, according to a draft proposal.

Before issuing such an order, the court would need to know that the specific website’s dominant purpose would be the enablement of copyright infringement, the government said in its proposal.

Public comment is sought on the proposal, with written submissions to be made by Aug. 25.

For more copyright news, click here.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Slind-Flor in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at Andrew Dunn, Joe Schneider

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