‘Blurred Lines,’ Aereo, White Oak: Intellectual Property

(Bloomberg) -- Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke crossed the line in recording the biggest hit song of 2013 by borrowing too much from the late Marvin Gaye and were ordered by a U.S. jury to give up $7.4 million in compensation.

Williams and Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was too similar to Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” jurors in Los Angeles found Tuesday in a decision that’s sending shock waves through an industry that relies on the influence of and, often, samples from earlier works.

“The verdict and large damages sum will likely chill the industry’s willingness to put out derivative and homage works -- an inexorable element of the American music tradition,” said Matt Larson, a Bloomberg Intelligence litigation analyst.

The line between appropriation and stealing is thin, said David Wolfert, a Grammy- and Emmy-nominated songwriter and founding member of the Council of Music Creators, an advocacy group for composers and songwriters.

“Even if the decision is wrong, it forces people to be a little more original in their thinking,” Wolfert said Wednesday. “It’s great for the music business of songwriting.”

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

Aereo’s Failed Auction Blamed on Broadcasters in N.Y. Suit

Aereo Inc., the online-TV service brought down by a U.S. Supreme Court copyright ruling, accused Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and other broadcasters of derailing the company’s bankruptcy auction in a bid to stifle competition.

Aereo on Feb. 24 sold its patents, hardware and other assets piecemeal for less than $2 million -- a fraction of what it sought -- after a key bidder backed out, the company said in a lawsuit Monday in Manhattan bankruptcy court.

TiVo Inc., which makes digital video recorders, was the winning bidder for Aereo’s trademarks, domain names and customer lists. RPX Corp., a patent risk-management company, bought the patent portfolio. Information-technology consultant Alliance Technologies acquired some equipment.

Aereo had said it expected bidding of $4 million to $31.2 million.

The case is In re Aereo Inc., 14-bk-13200, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

For more copyright news, click here.

Trademark

White Oak Vineyards Wins Court Order Against White Oak Spirits

White Oak Vineyards & Winery LLC, whose products sell for $24 to $50 a bottle, persuaded a federal court in Los Angeles to order a Florida distillery to quit using “White Oak” in its brand or for the names of any of its products.

The Healdsburg, California-based winery sued White Oak Spirits LLC in December 2014, claiming the public was confused by the name similarity. According to court papers, the winery has been in business and selling wine under its name for more than 30 years, and registered “White Oak” as a U.S. trademark in January 2006.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald said in a March 9 order that the winery made a clear showing it would be likely to succeed in its trademark claims and that it would suffer irreparable harm if the distillery continued to use the White Oak name.

In his temporary order, he told the distiller to quit advertising and selling any goods that infringe the marks, and he gave the winery permission to serve a copy of the order on any third party selling the distiller’s products in that particular judicial district. If the sellers don’t cooperate, he said, the winery can ask for an order to seize the offending merchandise.

The case is White Oak Vineyards & Winery LLC v. White Oak Spirits LLC, 14-cv-09830, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For more trademark news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Tenax Aerospace Says Confidential Information Was Used Unfairly

Tenax Aerospace Holdings LLC filed a suit in Mississippi federal court accusing Falko Regional Aircraft US of misusing confidential information to compete unfairly.

The suit is related to the leasing of specialized aircraft used by the U.S. Forest Service to fight wildfires. According to the complaint, Falko, as part of a complex financing arrangement, had access to confidential information including the purchase of Superscooper amphibious water-bomber aircraft made by Montreal-based Bombardier Inc.

Tenax accused Falko of using the information to contract with Bombardier to buy all Superscooper aircraft already manufactured or to be made by the Canadian company in the next several years. Ridgeland, Mississippi-based Tenax said that the “reasonable offer” it made to Falko for these aircraft has been refused.

The company asked the court for awards of money damages to be paid by Falko and other parties in the financing arrangement. Falko didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment.

The case is Tenax Aerospace Holdings LLC v. Conair Group Inc., 15-cv-00064, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi.

Patents

Bayer’s Indian Patent Application for Cancer Drug Rejected

The Indian Patent Office, already having granted a compulsory license to Natco Pharma Ltd. of Hyderabad to make a generic form of Bayer HealthCare AG’s anti-cancer drug Sorafenib, rejected the German company’s application for a patent on the medicine, India’s Business Standard newspaper reported.

The patent office said the application didn’t have a sufficiently inventive step, according to the newspaper.

The patent office acted following opposition filed by Natco and Fresenius Kabi Oncology Ltd., a New Delhi-based maker of cancer drugs, the newspaper reported.

Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer, which markets the product as Nexavar, had argued that the invention described in its patent application hadn’t been disclosed in any of documents its opponents cited, according to the Business Standard.

U.S. Senate Confirms Michelle K. Lee as Patent Office Director

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s appointment of Michelle K. Lee as director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Her full title is deputy under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Lee previously was deputy under secretary of commerce and deputy director of the patent office.

She has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a law degree from Stanford Law School.

Before Lee became a lawyer, she was a computer scientist for both Hewlett-Packard Co. and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT.

Lee was a clerk to U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who heard the copyright-infringement case between Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. She also clerked for Judge Paul R. Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Washington-based court that hears appeals of patent cases.

Before she joined the patent office, Lee was a deputy general counsel at Google Inc., where she was head of the company’s patents and patent-strategy operation. She has also been a partner at Mountain View, California-based Fenwick & West LLC.

For more patent 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 Charles Carter, Joe Schneider

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