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P&G, Nestle, GagaJeans, Enterprise: Intellectual Property

October 11, 2013

Procter & Gamble Co. (PG:US), the maker of Head & Shoulders, accused the U.K.’s Unilever Plc (ULVR) of infringing three patents covering anti-dandruff shampoo.

Unilever’s allegedly infringing products include Suave, Dove, Axe and Clear Scalp, according to the complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Cincinnati, where P&G is based.

P&G said it sued after Unilever broke a 1998 agreement between the two companies. According to court papers, the consumer products makers settled a series of patent disputes at that time and provided a mechanism for handling future disputes.

Under the terms of the agreement, the companies would first negotiate, then enter into mediation and, if that wasn’t successful, submit to arbitration. Only after these steps were completed could they litigate, P&G said in court papers. Over the past 15 years, the companies have resolved at least five patent clashes in this fashion, according to court papers.

P&G said that in January it notified Unilever it believed some of the U.K. company’s anti-dandruff products infringed three patents.

In dispute are patents 6,451,300, 6,974,569 and 6,649,155.

P&G claims that Unilever violated the agreement by initiating proceedings in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office challenging the validity of these patents. The U.K. company filed petitions for proceedings known as inter partes review.

These are adversarial proceedings, with the results of the petitions to be decided by judges at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

P&G claims that a wide range of Unilever products infringe the three patents, the Ohio company asked the court to issue orders barring further infringement of its patents and for money damages, attorney fees and litigation costs.

Unilever didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment.

The case is Procter & Gamble Co. v. Conopco Inc., 13-cv-00732, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati).

Nestle Responds to EPO Ruling Revoking Patent Covering Nespresso

Nestle SA (NESN), the Swiss food company, said in a statement yesterday that it was disappointed by a ruling from the Appeals Board of the European Patent Office.

The board revoked a patent related to the Vevey, Switzerland-based company’s Nespresso single-serve beverage-brewing system. It overrules a decision from the European Patent Office in April 2012, the company said.

Nestle said that the ruling doesn’t have any effect on “the current competitive situation” with respect to the Nespresso system. The company said there are no prohibitions against the sale of competitors’ generic capsules that Nestle had claimed infringed the patent. The appeal board’s decisions “does not change the status quo,” the company said.

Nestle said it will await the board’s written decision before determining what steps to take in its pending infringement cases.

For more patent news, click here.


GagaJeans Maker Changes Name After Musician Complains

The maker of blue jeans with a sideways zip-open crotch said the product’s name has been changed following complaints from the pop singer known as Lady Gaga.

The pants, which are to sell for $10,000 a pair, will now be known under their maker’s name, Pheiress, the company said in a statement on its website.

Pheiress said that it received almost universal negative comments about for the name “GagaJeans” and that the performer accused the company of trademark infringement.

The jeans have a zipper set in the inner leg seam running eight inches in each direction, according to the website. They are covered by patent D680,299, a design patent that was issued on April 23. The patent holder is Philip Walter Scott of Chipley, Florida.

Although the zipper is fully functional, it’s not intended to be used, “only stared at and talked about by all those guys who see you in them,” according to the website.

For more trademark news, click here.


Hearst Loses Pretrial Effort to Stop Aereo Video-Streaming

A Hearst-owned television station failed to stop the online TV service Aereo Inc. from streaming video as it faces copyright-infringement lawsuits from broadcast TV networks.

Hearst Stations Inc., operator of WCVB-TV near Boston, sued Aereo in July and accused it of violating copyrights by capturing signals and sending them to customers without permission.

“Hearst has not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits nor the requisite irreparable harm” for an injunction, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston said in an Oct. 8 ruling. Hearst will appeal the ruling, WCVB spokesman Paul Luthringer said in an e-mailed statement.

Hearst, based in New York, owns 29 broadcast stations in the U.S., and major revenue sources include advertising and fees paid for the right to resell programming, according to Gorton’s opinion. Aereo, based in New York, transmits TV over the Internet to paying customers.

“When you comply not only with the letter but the spirit of the law, justice will prevail,” Aereo’s founder and chief executive officer, Chet Kanojia, said in a statement after the ruling. “Today’s decision makes clear that that there is no reason that consumers should be limited to 1950s technology to access over-the-air broadcast television.”

Broadcast networks, including CBS Corp. (CBS:US) and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, sued Aereo in New York in March 2012. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan rejected the networks’ motion for an injunction that would have shut down the service, and a panel of New York appeals judges upheld that ruling in April.

Hearst Stations is part of Hearst Corp.

The case is Hearst Stations v. Aereo, 13-cv-11649, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

For more copyright news, click here.

Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage

Enterprise Accuses Ex-Employee of Taking Trade Secrets to Hertz

Enterprise Holdings Inc., the closely held Missouri rental car company, sued a former employee for trade secret misappropriation.

According to a complaint filed Oct. 8 in federal court in St. Louis, Enterprise accused a former credit card business analyst of taking confidential business information to a new job with a unit of Hertz Global Holdings Inc. (HTZ:US), an Enterprise competitor.

Hertz isn’t a party to the suit.

Enterprise said the former employee began work with the company in June 1998 and was promoted several times before becoming a credit card business analyst. In that job, the employee had “direct and significant responsibility” for the operation of its credit card processing business, systems and programs.

The employee had access to detailed proprietary information about the rental car company’s agreements with major credit card associations and banks, including Visa, American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Bank of America, according to court papers.

This information is both confidential and valuable competitively, Enterprise said, adding that it took “reasonable measures” to protect its unauthorized disclosure or use.

The day after the employee submitted a notice of resignation, Enterprise said it began reviewing the employee’s e-mail account and discovered that what the company claimed was trade secret information was wrongfully sent to a personal e-mail account.

The rental car company asked the court to bar the unauthorized use of its data and that it be returned. Additionally, the company asked for money damages, litigation costs and attorney fees.

The case is Enterprise Holdings Inc. v. Kriete, 13-cv-02005, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Slind-Flor in Oakland, California, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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