Led Zep’s Bid to Toss ‘Stairway’ Suit: Intellectual Property

Members of Led Zeppelin and its music publishers, who were sued May 31 for copyright infringement over part of the classic rock song “Stairway to Heaven,” asked the federal court in Philadelphia to dismiss the case.

Alternatively, the band members and music companies have asked the court to move the case to a federal court in California, where the non-party witnesses “are largely located,” according to a court filing.

The musicians, who are British, and the music company defendants said they lacked the personal and business connections to Pennsylvania that would justify being sued there. They also argued that no specific infringing injury occurred in Pennsylvania.

Band members James Paul Page, Robert Anthony Plant and John Paul Jones were sued by Michael Skidmore as Trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust. While the complaint named the band as a defendant, “Led Zeppelin is the name of a musical group, and not a juridical entity,” lawyers for Page, Plant and Jones said in a court filing.

At the heart of the case is a guitar riff.

Randy Craig Wolfe, now deceased, was a rock musician who toured under the name Randy California, and formed the band Spirit. In January 1968, Spirit released a self-titled album named Spirit that became a top 40 Billboard charting album, according to the trust’s complaint.

“On that album was a unique 2 minute and 37 second instrumental titled ‘Taurus’ which has a distinct-plucked guitar line and melody,” the trust said in the complaint.

Late in 1968, Led Zeppelin “began touring in the United States, opening for Spirit” and “became familiar with Taurus,” and “other psychedelic-type audio affects” that helped give Led Zeppelin its sound, and the band “began to cover Spirit’s songs,” the trust said in its complaint.

After a year of touring with Spirit, Page “allegedly” wrote “Stairway to Heaven” in a remote cottage in Wales and the song’s iconic notes “sound almost exactly the same” as Taurus, the trust said in the complaint. Stairway to Heaven was released in 1971, the trust said in the complaint.

The publishing defendants in the case are Super Hype Publishing Inc., Warner Music Group Corp., Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Atlantic Recording Corp., and Rhino Entertainment Co., according to court records.

Francis Alexander, the lawyer for the trust, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the motion to dismiss the case.

The case is Michael Skidmore as Trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust v. Led Zeppelin, 14-03089, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

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Patents

Apotex, Roche Settle Patent Case Over Valcyte Generic

Apotex Inc., a generic-drug maker, settled a patent case with Roche Holding AG over generic Valcyte, according to a filing by Roche’s attorneys in federal court in Oakland, California.

Under a settlement agreement, Apotex is blocked from selling its generic drug prior to Sept. 30, 2015, “except in accordance with a license granted by” Roche.

Roche’s Genentech unit sued Apotex in 2011 alleging Apotex’s plan to make a generic will cause “massive infringement” of its patent covering the antiviral drug that expires next year.

The companies agreed to dismiss all claims and counterclaims, the filing said.

VirnetX Says USPTO Scales Back Re-Examination in Cisco Case

VirnetX Holding Corp., the Internet communication technology company, said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has partially terminated certain inter partes re-examination proceedings initiated by Cisco Systems.

The PTO terminated re-examination proceedings with respect to certain claims of VirnetX’s U.S. patent nos. 6,502,135; 6,839,759; 7,418,504; 7,921,211, according to a statement Sept. 19 by VirnetX.

“We are pleased with the USPTO’s decisions to terminate the re-examination proceedings at least partially and look forward to validation of the rest of the claims of these patents,” Kendall Larsen, VirnetX Chief Executive Officer and President, said in the statement.

Separately, an appeals court threw out a $368.2 million patent-infringement damage award VirnetX won against Apple Inc. over virtual private networks.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington Sept. 16 ordered a review of whether Apple’s FaceTime feature infringed two patents and threw out the damage award, saying it was based on faulty jury instructions. The court did agree that Apple’s VPN on Demand features infringed two other patents.

For more patent news, click here.

Trademark

Bank of China Wins Partial Victory in Counterfeit Fight

Bank of China won a partial victory in its effort to extract itself from the middle of a luxury-brands counterfeiting lawsuit.

Luxury-brand plaintiffs Gucci America, Inc., Balenciaga, Inc., Bottega Veneta Inc., Luxury Goods International Inc. and Yves Saint Laurent America Inc. in 2010 served a subpoena on Bank of China and obtained a temporary injunction freezing assets of defendants they sued for trading in counterfeited goods, according to a 51-page decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Sept. 17.

The bank wasn’t a party to the lawsuit.

Along with freezing the defendants’ assets, the luxury brands were seeking the bank’s help in gathering information about Weixing Li, also known as Xin Li, who, together with other defendants, allegedly engaged in counterfeiting, according to the decision.

The appeals court said the district court properly froze the defendants’ assets and blocked them from transferring funds in 2010. The court said, however, that the lower court erred when it held the bank in contempt and imposed “an initial coercive fine of $75,000,” with additional penalties of $10,000 a day, for failing to comply with the subpoena and asset freeze order.

The Bank of China “is not incorporated or headquartered anywhere in the United States,” and “only a portion of the bank’s worldwide activity” takes place here, the appeals court said.

The parties will return for another hearing at the district court.

The case was sent back to the lower court to “consider whether it may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the bank to compel compliance with its orders and (if so) whether it should exercise such jurisdiction, properly applying principles of comity,” the appeals court said.

The case is Gucci v. Bank of China, 11-cv-3934, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit (Manhattan).

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