IBM Leads, AFG, New Jersey County: Intellectual Property

(Bloomberg) -- IBM captured the top spot in annual U.S. patents granted for the 22nd straight year. The question remains: Can the perennial leader translate those inventions into revenue?

International Business Machines Corp.’s 7,534 patents in 2014 beat the record it set a year earlier, the company said today in a statement. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and Tokyo-based Canon Inc. ranked second and third.

IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty is still looking to newer areas like cloud computing and data analytics to reverse falling revenue and a projected decline in profit in 2014. Last year, 40 percent of the company’s patents were issued for work relating to the company’s growth initiatives, IBM said in the statement.

“IBM’s continued investment in research and development is key to driving the transformation of our company,” Rometty said in the statement.

While computer-related patents can take almost three years to process, the annual list shows where companies are seeking growth opportunities. For IBM, it’s cloud computing, data analytics, security, and mobile- and social-centric offerings. The Armonk, New York-based company’s investment has led to its patent volume dominance and offerings like the Watson data-analytics supercomputer.

IBM spends about 6 percent of its annual revenue on research and development -- or about half that of its technology peers in the S&P 500 Index. Competitors like Google Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. typically spend about 13 percent.

More American companies were able to breach the top 10 in patents this year, with Google’s seventh-place finish giving it a single-digit ranking for the first time. Software giant Microsoft Corp. and phone-chip maker Qualcomm Inc. have made the top 10 since 2013, according to patent information compiled by IFI Claims Patent Services, a unit of Fairview Research LLC.

Apple Inc. just missed the top 10, rising two spots since 2013 to 11th place, according to IFI data. U.S. companies General Electric Co., Intel Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. were also among the top 20 patent recipients last year.

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Google Appeal in Oracle Java Case Gets Supreme Court Inquiry

The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Obama administration for advice on Google Inc.’s appeal in its copyright clash with Oracle Corp. over the Android smartphone operating system.

Google is accused of copying Oracle’s Java programming platform to develop Android. Google asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling that revived Oracle’s claims.

Oracle, the largest database-software maker, has sought more than $1 billion in damages. Oracle claims Google used Java code without paying because it was in a rush to create Android, now the world’s most popular smartphone platform. The dispute involves shortcuts created by Java to perform basic functions like connecting to the Internet.

The case has split the industry between companies that write interface code and those that rely on it to develop software programs.

The high court yesterday also asked for administration input in a separate Google clash over its Street View mapping system. In that case, Google is defending against accusations that it infringed a California company’s patents.

The Supreme Court directed its requests to U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the administration’s top courtroom advocate.

The case is Google v. Oracle, 14-410.

AFG’s Mid-Continent Casualty Recommended for Dismissal From Suit

American Financial Group Inc.’s Mid-Continent Casualty unit wouldn’t have to pay any part of a $63 million judgment against a Texas homebuilder, under a recommendation by a federal magistrate in Texas.

Kipp Flores Architects LLC of Austin, Texas, sued Hallmark Collection of Homes LLC, a former licensee, for copyright infringement in 2009, claiming that the homebuilder went beyond the terms of its license and built more houses than the license covered.

The homebuilder then sought protection from bankruptcy court, after which the architect filed a claim for $63.5 million against the builder. The builder then asked its insurer to cover part of the claim.

Mid-Continent argued that it hadn’t received proper notification of the infringement suit and under its contract with Hallmark wasn’t required to pay.

In her Jan. 9 memorandum and recommendation on Mid-Continent’s request that the claim be dismissed, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy in Houston said that by filing to provide the insurer with timely notification, the company was “deprived of its ability to answer and defend against” the architectural firm’s claims. She recommended that Mid-Continent’s request for dismissal be granted.

The case is Kipp Flores Architects LLC v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., 4:14-cv-02702, and the earlier copyright suit is Kipp Flores Architects LLC v. Hallmark Designs Homes LP, 4:09-cv-00850, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

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New Jersey Resident Wins Attorney Fees in Suit Against County

The producer of a television program covering politics and government in Union County, New Jersey, has been awarded $39,500 in attorney fees from the county in a trademark case.

Tina Renna, of Cranford, New Jersey, produces “Union County Citizen’s Forum,” which is carried on the Township of Cranford’s public-access television channel. She said in court papers that county officials have objected to the program, viewing it as critical of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

As a graphic illustration for her program, she included an image of the county seal. In 2010 the county sent her a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that her display of the seal constituted trademark infringement.

After consulting counsel, she responded that the county had no trademark rights in its seal and that she wasn’t infringing. The county then sent her another cease-and-desist letter.

She sued in New Jersey federal court in 2011, asking it to declare that she wasn’t infringing and to award attorney fees and litigation costs.

U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in May rejected the county’s request for dismissal of the case, saying that as a governmental agency the county was barred from registering its seal as a trademark. He ruled that Renna’s use of the seal was non-infringing.

On Jan. 7, Magistrate Judge Michael Hammer awarded Renna $39,935 in attorney fees and another $550.65 for litigation costs.

The case is Renna v. Union County, New Jersey, 2:11-cv-03328, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Hackers to Release Swiss Bank Data as $11,883 Ransom Goes Unpaid

A hacking group leaked identifying confidential details about 30,000 clients of a small Swiss bank after Banque Cantonale de Geneve declined the group’s request to pay a ransom.

The hackers’ asking price for continued privacy: 10,000 euros ($11,883).

The hack and its seemingly small-scale demand speak to the prevalence and ease of a rapidly growing extortion industry that deals in stolen or hijacked data.

The hacking group, which calls itself Rex Mundi, offered a link that it said contained purloined e-mails with clients’ names, phone numbers and account numbers, as well as their e-mails with the bank. The group said it will post the data tomorrow on its website.

In a statement on its site, Banque Cantonale de Geneve confirmed that the information had been released but said the information didn’t represent a financial risk for clients or the bank. It said it is conducting deeper analysis with authorities and that additional security measures put in place earlier have been effective.

Earlier this week, the hackers released a statement that included two stolen e-mails to verify they had the data.

“If we do not get paid in the meantime, we will post the Banque Cantonale de Geneve #leak tonight on our website,” Rex Mundi said in a Twitter posting. “We would like to wish a merry tax audit to all the non-Swiss account holders listed in the BCGE files.”

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 Charles Carter, Joe Schneider

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