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Ronaldo, Bose, Beats, Skywalker, Greek yoghurt, USPTO, South Africa – the week in IP



Michael Loney


Ronaldo’s underwear trade mark dispute, a UK passport application denial for infringing a trade mark, Bose’s patent lawsuit against Beats, a refusal of permission to appeal in a passing off case over Greek yoghurt, and a comedian’s fight against a patent troll – some of the IP-related news you may have missed this week

Below is a selection of intellectual property stories attracting interest on the internet in the past week that were not covered on www.managingip.com (see the bottom of this blog post for the top stories published by Managing IP this week).


The passport office strikes back

A British woman who changed her middle name to Skywalker has been told her signature infringes a trade mark.

UK passport officials denied Laura Matthews’ application to renew her passport because she amended her signature to "L Skywalker", the BBC reported.

The Home Office explained it "will not recognise a change to a name which is subject to copyright or trademark".

The applicant – whose full name now is Laura Elizabeth Skywalker Matthews – said she changed her name by deed poll in 2008 "for a bit of a laugh".

For those who have managed to ignore popular culture for the past four decades, Luke Skywalker was one of the main characters in the original Star Wars film trilogy.


Ronaldo aims to score IP victory

Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is involved in a trade mark dispute over his line of underwear.

Danish company JBS Textile Group, the company that makes his line of CR7 underwear, has sent letters to Rhode Island fitness enthusiast Christopher Renzi demanding he give up his trade mark in the US for CR7 because the firm has "imminent plans" to sell the underwear in the US, reports Reuters.

Renzi this week filed a complaint in Rhode Island federal court seeking declaration that he owns the trade mark. The filing says JBS has also asked the USPTO to cancel Renzi’s trade mark.

Renzi registered the mark in 2009 and has included it on jeans and T-shirts. Renzi says his trade mark is based on his initials and the day he was born in October.

JBS argued in a filing with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that CR7 was "so closely tied to the fame and reputation of Cristiano Ronaldo, that a connection with the soccer player would immediately be presumed by the general public when encountering" Renzi’s clothes. CR7 represents Ronaldo’s initials and shirt number.


Bose v Beats

Bose is suing Beats Electronics for infringing five of its patents related to noise-cancelling headphones.

The lawsuit comes two months after Apple announced it was buying Beats for $3 billion.

Bose’s patents relate to its active noise reduction (ANR) technique. "ANR is a technique to reduce unwanted noise by introducing a second sound source that destructively interferes with the unwanted noise," said Bose’s lawyers in a filing with a Delaware district court.

Bose claims that Beats did not license its technology despite being told it was infringing its patents. Bose claims that it has lost sales as a result of Beats using noise-cancelling technology in its Studio and Studio Wireless headphone range.

Bose has also filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, which means the federal court suit will be stayed while the ITC case is resolved.

The ITC complaint alleges that Beats, Fugang Electronic of China and PCH International of Ireland unlawfully import into the US, sell for importation, and/or sell within the US after importation certain noise cancelling headphones that infringe the five patents.


All Greek to me

The UK Supreme Court has refused permission to appeal in a passing off case over Greek yoghurt, saying that it did not raise an arguable point of law. The decision brings to an end two years of litigation between FAGE, which sells Greek yoghurt under the Total brand, and rival Chobani.

The ruling by three judges of the Court effectively affirms that "Greek yoghurt" sold in the UK must be made by a straining process, contain no additives or preservatives and be made in Greece. The judges did not record whether they sampled the products under scrutiny in the case.


Comedian takes on troll

A firm that had filed suit against various podcasters has complained that a comedian will not let the case go now it has decided to drop the allegations.

Personal Audio sued Adam Carolla and his podcasting company Lotzi Digitial, along with other podcast companies How Stuff Works and Togi Net, claiming they infringed a patent relating to "episodic content".

The firm dismissed the suits against the other two companies in May and June, and is unhappy that Carolla has rejected its offer to dismiss the suit. Carolla also continues to raise money through FundAnything.com, which has already raised $450,000 to take on Personal Audio.

Personal Audio claims its decision to drop litigation was a result of it realising smaller amounts of money were at issue that it had thought.

"When Personal Audio first began its litigation, it was under the impression that Carolla, the self-proclaimed largest podcaster in the world, as well as certain other podcasters, were making significant money from infringing Personal Audio’s patents," the Texan firm explained in a statement. "After the parties completed discovery, however, it became clear this was not the case."

The firm’s CEO Brad Liddle complained about Carolla continuing to raise money. "Perhaps this is because he feels he can simply get his fans to fund his future, and now unnecessary, legal expenses. Or perhaps it relates to how he uses the case as material for his show," he said. He added: "Adam Carolla’s assertions that we would destroy podcasting were ludicrous on their face."

Carolla sent Ars Technica a statement saying he'll continue to pursue counter claims against Personal Audio, seeking to invalidate the patent "so that Personal Audio cannot sue other podcasters for infringement of US Patent 8,112,504". He added that his company Lotzi has already "incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and expenses to defend itself" against the Personal Audio patents.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has also initiated an inter partes review process to get the patent invalidated.


USPTO staff take some "other time"

A report this week revealed that the USPTO spent $4.3 million between 2009 and 2013 to reimburse paralegals for "other time" and paid them nearly $700,000 in bonuses despite not having much to do.

The Commerce Department’s inspector general found that paralegals at the USPTO’s appeal board were paid more than $5 million, despite the lack of work meaning they could shop online, catch up on chores, watch television or walk the dog, according to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times quoted one chief judge in the report as saying: "I almost don’t blame [paralegals] for watching TV because, I mean, you’re sitting around for 800 hours." The judge added that supervisors not only tolerated this but in one instance admonished an employee who complained about the lack of work.

One official told investigators it was an open secret that "other time" was code for "I don’t have to work, but I’m going to get paid."

A USPTO spokesman told the newspaper that the agency is reviewing the report and plans to issue a formal response within 60 days. "Many of the OIG’s recommendations for improvements at the PTAB are already underway or have
been implemented," he said.


Boosting GDP in South Africa

Protecting intellectual property has the potential to contribute 11% to South Africa’s GDP, according to the country’s Department of Trade and Industry.

Zodwa Ntuli, the department’s deputy director-general for corporate and consumer regulation, said the potential can be achieved if the laws are enforced correctly, according to The Africa Report. She said creative industries contribute 4.1% to GDP at the moment.

"The potential growth of 11% GDP is possible if it taken more seriously with incentives and if strategies are implemented," she said.

The Department of Trade and Industry received 7,444 patent applications in 2012, with only 8.2% – or 608 patent applications – being filed by South African residents.



Other blog posts published this week:

The overstated effect of patent trolls on litigation

What’s in the July-August issue of Managing IP

How would you streamline your IP system?

Guest blog: Patents in the biopesticide industry revealed

Also on Managing IP this week (subscription or trial needed for full access):
Microsoft sues Samsung for breaking IP agreement

UK copyright exceptions come into force on October 1

Talks on EU trade mark reforms to begin

PTAB issues precedential decision in CBM review proceeding

Honigman adds partner in Michigan

Novak Druce opens Philadelphia office with new hire

KWM SJ Berwin hires patent litigator in London

Change to Korea’s patent law helps international filers

Phillips appointed chair of Federal Circuit Advisory Council

Notices placed on suspected infringing websites

Companion trade secrets bill introduced in House of Representatives

BakerHostetler adds partner in LA from Foley & Lardner

Tool to forecast trade mark demand launched

What does the IP profession want from its IP minister?

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