Even as they battle in court over smartphone and video technology, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US) and Google Inc. (GOOG:US) have discovered a common foe: patent owners who try to sue their customers or go after an entire industry.
Both companies are seeking to curb the litigation practices of firms that buy patents with the sole purpose of demanding royalties from as many end-users as they can, even if it means suing a pizza parlor or nonprofit. Anger has united a cross-section of retailers, finance companies, public-transit operators and hotels, and even caught the attention of President Barack Obama, who last month announced corrective measures.
Focusing on the issue could create pressure in Congress for legislation and action by U.S. courts -- as long as companies avoid the squabbling that marred the previous effort to change patent law. That took almost a decade and pitted industries, and even technology companies, against each other.
“Going after bad litigation behavior is an approach we can all agree on,” said Tim Molino, director of government relations for Washington-based BSA - The Software Alliance, whose members include Microsoft and Oracle Corp.
Google spokesman Matt Kallman referred questions about patent legislation to the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a Washington-based lobbying group backed by Google, Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp. Each month, the group has a meeting with an increasing number of organizations to discuss ways to get legislative change.
The increased political attention is due to patent owners who started going after product end-users, demanding cheap settlements from a large number of companies. A White House-commissioned report estimated that more than 100,000 companies were threatened last year, including members of politically connected Washington trade groups like the National Retail Federation and Financial Services Roundtable.
Members of Congress have proposed legislation to limit some patent owners from seeking product import bans at the U.S. International Trade Commission, expand reviews of business method patents and force certain patent owners who lose at trial to pay legal fees of those they accused of infringement.
The courts have also been trying to curb abuses. The ITC, a quasi-judicial agency in Washington, set up a program to resolve certain patent cases more quickly. The chief judge of the federal appeals court that specializes in patent law co-wrote a New York Times opinion piece advocating sanctions for litigation abuses.
Getting a consensus could mean avoiding more controversial issues such as curbing software patents, and ensuring that any changes don’t have unintended consequences that hurt universities needing legal protection for their research and patent-reliant businesses.
Samsung Gets Patent on Mobile Phone That Docks With Tablet Device
Samsung Electronics Co. (005930), the Korean maker of smartphones and other electronic devices, received a patent for a mobile telephone that docks into a tablet device, according to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Patent D685774, issued July 9, is described as “a terminal for wireless communication.” According to the patent drawings, the mobile phone appears to have a USB port and a jack for a headphone. The phone flares at the top and has rounded lower edges.
Seocho-gu, South Korea-based Samsung applied for the patent in June 2012, with the assistance of NSIP Law of Washington.
The company said in a statement yesterday that it was seeking the cause of an explosion of one of its mobile phones. Samsung said it was focused on quality control and customer safety.
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Green Mountain Unit Seeks Trademark for Home Soda Machine
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR:US)’s Keurig unit filed an application to register a trademark to be used with soda machines, according to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The application, filed July 3, is to register “Karbon” as a trademark for “machines for the production of cold water, soda, still, carbonated and sparkling beverages.” A second application filed that day is to register “Bolt,” to be used for carafes.
Keurig’s soda machine would compete with those made by Israel’s SodaStream International Ltd. (SODA:US)
“We are not going to comment on this specific trademark,” Suzanne DuLong, a spokeswoman for Waterbury, Vermont-based Green Mountain, said in an e-mail. “As we continue to grow, we are likely to seek any number of trademarks.”
Flipboard Sued by Company Seeking to Use ‘Flowboard’ Trademark
Flipboard Inc., a maker of software for use on mobile devices, was sued over a trademark by a Seattle-based software company.
According to the complaint filed July 11 in federal court in Seattle, Treemo Inc. is seeking a court declaration that its “Flowboard” mark doesn’t infringe Flipboard’s trademarks.
Treemo said it has been contacted by counsel for Flipboard threatening legal action over the trademark.
In court papers, Treemo said that during the process of applying to register Flowboard as a trademark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “found no conflicting marks that would bar registration.” The company is also arguing that the two marks are used for different purposes.
Flowboard is used for a software product “for the creation of side-scrolling presentations with images, text, video links and photo galleries,” according to the complaint. Flipboard is used with social networking services, something Treemo says it doesn’t offer under its Flowboard mark.
Additionally, Treemo argued that the patent office database contains almost 600 registrations or pending applications that contain some form of the word “board.” The initial portions of the respective marks -- Flow and Flip --“connote substantially different images in the minds of ordinary consumers,” Treemo said in its pleadings.
Flipboard, based in Palo Alto, California, sent a statement to the TechCrunch website saying that it had wanted to resolve the dispute with Treemo amicably and that it’s concerned about the likelihood of confusion.
The case is Treemo Inc., v. Flipboard Inc., 13-cv-01218, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).
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Goodreads Sued for Copyright Infringement Over Boy Band Photo
Goodreads Inc., whose website lets readers share book recommendations, was sued for copyright infringement by a company that owns and licenses celebrity photos.
The suit, filed July 5 in federal court in Los Angeles, is one of more than 20 brought since March 1 by BWP Media USA Inc. of Los Angeles. The company is represented in all these suits by Sanders Law Pllc of Garden City, New Jersey.
BWP said in its complaint that photos of a member of the boy band IM5 were posted on Goodreads without authorization and in willful violation of its copyrights.
Goodreads, based in Santa Monica, California, didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment on the suit.
BWP asked the court money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.
The case is BWP Media USA Inc., v. Goodreads Inc., 2:13-cv-04851-E, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage
Trade Secrets Case Against Weather Channel to Proceed
Weather Channel LLC, the television network owned by Bain Capital LLC, Blackstone Group LP and NBC Universal International Ltd., failed to persuade a federal court to dismiss a trade-secrets case.
Events Media Network Inc. of Shamong, New Jersey, sued Weather Channel in Pennsylvania state court in March 2012, claiming it violated a confidentiality agreement with respect to its events database. The database had been licensed to Weather Channel through May 1, 2011.
Weather Channel used this confidential information both after the license expired and for purposes not covered by the agreement, Events Media said in its pleadings.
The case was moved to federal court in Pennsylvania in May 2012 before heading to a New Jersey federal court in November.
The Weather Channel asked that the case be dismissed, saying that the database didn’t qualify for trade-secrets protection because it contained information that was publicly available and that Events Media didn’t take enough care to protect its secrecy.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden, New Jersey, on July 12 rejected Weather Channel’s arguments. He said the trade-secrets claims were made under Georgia law, which specifically covers compilations of what may be available to the public.
The judge also concluded that Events Media took care to protect the confidentiality of the database and found that the license agreement with Weather Channel specifically limited the ways the information could be disclosed. The agreement also required reporting any inadvertent or improper use of the data.
The case is Events Media Network Inc. v. Weather Channel Interactive Inc., 13-cv-00003, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden).
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