Hormel Lawsuit Over Bacon Secrets: Intellectual Property

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(Bloomberg) -- Unitherm Food Systems Inc., a maker of machines used to produce food products, was told it can’t claim a trade secret was infringed when an invention was disclosed in a patent application.

The suit, filed in Minnesota federal court in September 2014, accused Hormel Foods Corp. of misappropriating trade secrets for pre-cooking sliced bacon. The two companies had a joint development agreement executed in 2007 to cover their manufacture of an oven that would use very high steam levels for cooking.

Under the contract terms, all inventions would be owned by Hormel. Unitherm in court filings accused Hormel of disclosing some of the project’s trade secrets to a competitor that also made food-processing machinery, Houston’s FMC Technologies Inc.

Bristow, Oklahoma-based Unitherm applied for a patent on the process in July 2008. Hormel withdrew from the agreement with Unitherm in April 2010 and, five months later, filed its own application for a method of cooking bacon that Unitherm says was based on the process it was developing with Hormel.

Unitherm then sued Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel, claiming its contract was breached and its trade secrets stolen.

In his Jan. 27 ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said that while the process may have been a trade secret in the past, “it is axiomatic that a thing patented cannot also remain a secret.” He dismissed the misappropriation claim while saying the breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims by Unitherm may go forward.

The case is Unitherm Food System Inc. v. Hormel Goods Corp., 14-cv-04034, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.

Studies Say South Africa Becoming Target of Industrial Espionage

Industrial espionage is increasing in South Africa, according to studies by University of the Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa, ITWeb South Africa reported.

Industries hit include tobacco and information technology, according to ITWeb.

Companies that are particularly vulnerable include those using old and outdated security management emphasizing physical security while remaining oblivious to the need to protect information, ITWeb reported.

TextPower Gets Patent on ID System Without Passwords, User Names

TextPower Inc., a provider of wireless technology, received a patent for an invention that makes it easier for users to verify their identities without having to remember user names and passwords.

Patent 8,943,561, which was issued Jan. 27, covers a text message authentication system. Users can send a simple text message from their mobile phones to authenticate their identities. In a statement, San Juan, Capistrano-based TextPower said logging into sites that use the system takes “about as long as it does to send a text message.”

Websites offering the service will register users, and when users return to the site they’ll click a button causing a one-time password to appear. The user will send that password as a text message and the log in is achieved, according to the company.

TextPower applied for the patent in July 2012, with the assistance of Fish & Tsang LLP of Irvine, California.

For patent news, click here.


Marvin Gaye Singing “Give It Up’ Barred In Courtroom

In the copyright dispute between heirs to the late Marvin Gaye and pop musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, a federal judge in Los Angeles has barred jurors from hearing Gaye’s recording of the song at issue, ‘‘Got to Give It Up.”

U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt said Gaye’s heirs may present “modified versions” of the 1977 song but not the original. He also granted Thicke’s request to exclude evidence of Thicke’s touring income except when shown to be relevant to damages.

In his pretrial order, he said he will give each side 19 hours for the trial, excluding examination of prospective jurors, jury instructions and deliberations. He said the parties submitted a “voluminous number” of questions for jurors, and that many were inappropriate and won’t be used. The parties have until Feb. 2 to submit a list of 10 questions each side considers most significant.

Earlier, Thicke raised an unusual defense to allegations of copyright infringement. In a deposition obtained and published by the Hollywood Reporter, he said he wrote his song “Blurred Lines” with Pharrell Williams while constantly drunk on vodka and high on codeine after starting the day with a Vicodin.

The case is Williams v. Bridgeport Music Inc., 13-cv-06004, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For more copyright news, click here.


Shafer Vineyards, Howell Mountain Vineyards Settle Label Dispute

A trademark dispute involving two of California’s Napa County wineries has resolved amicably with no payment before a suit was served on the defendant, the Napa Valley Register reported.

Shafer Vineyards in the Napa Valley’s Stags Leap district filed a state court suit against Angwin, California’s Howell Mountain Vineyards over the use of “Hillside Select” on the Howell Mountain labels, according to the newspaper. The complaint was never served, though.

The “Hillside Select” mark was registered by Shafer in January 1990 for its Hillside Select Cabernet, a wine selling for $250 per bottle that it’s produced since 1983, the newspaper reported.

Hillside agreed not to use the mark, and vineyard owner said he’s in the process of soaking the bottles to remove the offending labels, according to the Register.

MPAA Rates Minnesota Brewery’s Label as Infringing Trademark

The Motion Picture Association of America, whose best-known IP-related legal fights have been over unauthorized downloading of its members’ films, sent a trademark-related cease-and-desist letter to a Minneapolis brewery, the St. Paul Business Journal reported.

The Washington-based film industry trade association objected to the “Rated R” beer being produced by 612Brew, according to the newspaper.

The MPAA told the brewery that it had registered “Rated R” -- used for its movie rating system -- as a U.S. trademark, according to the publication.

Although the brewery initially argued it served a wholly different industry from the trade group, it agreed instead to change the name, now calling the beer “unrated,” which is not a film-industry trademark, the Business Journal reported.

For more trademark news, click here.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Slind-Flor in San Francisco at vslindflor@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net David Glovin, Joe Schneider