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Rihanna, DC Comics, Lycos, Rockstar Games, Happy Birthday to You, Alibaba – the week in IP

A dispute between DC Comics and Rihanna over the name Robyn, Lycos putting its patent portfolio up for sale, Rockstar objecting to a BBC film about it, a copyright case over the song Happy Birthday to You, and Alibaba being sued by the owner of Gucci were in the IP headlines in the past week

What’s My Name?

DC Comics and pop star Rihanna are squaring off in a battle over an application for a trade mark for the word “Robyn”, according to The Independent.

The singer’s full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Her company Roraj Trade filed an application for a trade mark on the name in 2014, with the aim of using it for a fashion and cosmetics franchise.

However, DC Comics objects to the application, saying that it is too similar to Batman’s sidekick Robin. It says the name Robyn is “identical and/or highly related” to its Robin and “is likely to cause confusion, cause mistake, or to deceive the public” into thinking there is a connection between the two.

Lycos patent portfolio up for sale

Surprising some that it still existed, internet search pioneer Lycos has put its patent portfolio up for sale. Lycos has decided to sell some of its technologies in advance of launching a suite of hard good products in the coming weeks.

The company is best known for its search engine pioneered concepts and technology. “Lycos products are still relevant and utilised by industries like online advertising, ad keywords, SEO, robust databases and even online multi-player gaming,” the company said in a press release.

Stayko Staykov of The Propeller(y) said in the release: “Some of the assets have forwards citations in the hundreds and all describe technologies that are critically relevant for the online and mobile industries, while having applications in emerging fields such as Internet of Things.”

Lycos was sold for $12.5 billion in 2000, and was bought by Ybrandt Digital or $36 million in 2010. It previously sold eight patents to I/P Engine in 2012.

Envision IP examined the US patent portfolio now owned by Lycos, and identified 22 in-force US patents and one expired US patent. The in-force patents have an average remaining term of about eight years.

“None of the current Lycos-owned patents have been asserted in district court litigation, nor do any of them have a history of post-grant proceeding at the PTAB, such as a re-examination, post-grant review, or inter partes review,” said Envision IP in a blog post. “The company appears to have continued to seek patent protection on its proprietary technology over the years, with its most recent issued patent granted last month on April 21 2015. Many of the Lycos patents are in US classes 707, 709, 715, and 726, which relate to data processing, information security, and data transfer methods and software.”

Protecting IP like a Rockstar

The maker of Grand Theft Auto is suing the BBC to ensure its “trade marks are not misused” in a film called Game Changer.

The drama features Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games, and centres on the clash between Rockstar and US lawyer Jack Thompson, who tried to stop the violent games being played by children because he thought there was a link between violent video games and violent crimes.

Rockstar told the IGN website it has had no involvement with this project.

"Our goal is to ensure that our trade marks are not misused in the BBC's pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events related to Rockstar Games. We have attempted multiple times to resolve this matter with the BBC without any meaningful resolution. It is our obligation to protect our intellectual property and unfortunately in this case litigation was necessary."

Is Happy Birthday to you still covered by copyright?

A district court judge has enquired whether the schoolteacher credited with writing the tune to Happy Birthday to You had abandoned the copyright to the lyrics, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Warner/Chappell say that Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred composed the first version of the tune in 1889, and that is was then called “Good Morning to All”. Details are sketchy about what happened after that. The sisters sold their interest to Clayton Summy, who later registered copyrights for the melody in 1893, for lyrics appearing in a songbook in 1924 and for a piano arrangement in 1935.

The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit claim the melody has been in the public domain for more than 65 years and that no one knows who wrote the Happy Birthday lyrics. The plaintiffs say the public has sung the familiar lyrics since the early 1900s so the song had become a public work.

Warner/Chappell counter that the fact that others sung the lyrics to Happy Birthday to You before the 1935 registration does not displace the copyright that Warner/Chappell now owns.

"So long as the Hill Sisters had not copied the lyrics from someone else the work remains original to them, and thus fully eligible for copyright protection,” Warner/Chappell said.

Judge George King wants to hear more details on the abandonment issue, saying "the Parties would do well to bear in mind the analytical distinction between abandonment and loss of a copyright due to the failure to follow statutory formalities."

Kering renews action against Alibaba

Kering, which owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Puma and other brands, has sued Chinese online marketplace Alibaba, claiming it allows US shoppers to order counterfeit goods in bulk from its various websites, reports the BBC.

The company originally sued Alibaba last July but then agreed to discuss possible anti-counterfeiting measures with Alibaba. These talks have broken down and Kering has filed a new complaint.

Kering claims: "These specifically identifiable counterfeit products could not be sold without their assistance, but instead of shutting down the counterfeiters, the Alibaba defendants seek to profit from the counterfeiters' blatant violations.”

Alibaba said in a statement: "We continue to work in partnership with numerous brands to help them protect their intellectual property, and we have a strong track record of doing so.”

Also on the blog this week:

Guest blog: Will UPC lead to a rise in arbitration?

Turning a corner on the new gTLDs

Join us in London and Munich for the IP in Asia Forum

Garcia v Google reversal warmly received (except by Judge Kozinski)

Grey market strategy wall map

In our news and analysis this week:

Battling trade mark piracy in Cuba

Lisbon Union members adopt new treaty and Regulations

What should influence your decision to opt-out of the UPC?

USPTO releases final rules package for PTAB quick fixes

Kyle Bass files 15th IPR, targeting patent for Vimovo treatment

Baltic firms team up

Apple v Samsung: A new day for design patents?

Interview: Inside PIPCU’s anti-counterfeiting drive

IP trends at the CJEU in 2014 - data

EIP hires partner in London

EPO rules on plant patents cases

Hague gives teeth to provisional rights

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