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Ford, Google, Oracle, patent grants, Led Zeppelin, Supreme Court – the week in IP

Ford making its electrified vehicle patents available, the Obama administration siding with Oracle in its copyright case with Google, US patent grants falling in 2015, the latest in the Stairway to Heaven case, and the Supreme Court using the term “patent troll” for the first time were in the IP headlines in the past week

Ford patent focus

Ford is offering competitors access to its electrified vehicle technology patents, which it described as “a move to help accelerate industry-wide research and development of electrified vehicles”.

In 2014, Ford filed more than 400 patents dedicated to electrified vehicle technologies, more than 20% of the patents the company filed.

Kevin Layden, director, Ford Electrification Programs, said in a statement: “By sharing our research with other companies, we will accelerate the growth of electrified vehicle technology and deliver even better products to customers.”

Ford has more than 650 electrified vehicle patents and about 1,000 pending patent applications on electrified vehicle technologies. It produces six hybrid and fully-electrified vehicles.

The company said to access its patents and published patent applications, interested parties can contact the company’s technology commercialisation and licensing office, or work through AutoHarvest – an automaker collaborative innovation and licensing marketplace. The patents would be available for a fee.

The car maker also plans to hire an additional 200 electrified vehicle engineers this year. The team moves into a newly dedicated facility – Ford Engineering Laboratories – home to Henry Ford’s first labs in Dearborn.

Ford highlighted three of the available patents: Method and Apparatus for Battery Charge Balancing, patent No. US5764027; Temperature Dependent Regenerative Brake System for Electric Vehicle, patent No. US6275763; and Driving Behavior Feedback Interface, patent No. US8880290.

Tesla last year made all of its patents available for free, saying that it “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. Toyota earlier this year opened up hydrogen fuel 5,6000 hydrogen fuel patents.

Fortune ran a piece saying that Ford’s announcement is “overhyped”. It reported that prices will range between “hundreds and thousands of dollars,” according to Ford’s sustainability spokesman John Cangany, who did say the intent was to make these fees “reasonably priced” to make them more accessible.

Obama sides with Oracle

The Obama administration this week said the Supreme Court should not hear Google’s appeal in its case against Oracle over Java, reports Reuters. Oracle won a Federal Circuit ruling that allows it to copyright parts of Java, despite Google arguing code is not entitled to copyright protection and that it should be free to use Java without paying for a licence.

US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that Google’s argument lacks merit. He added that Google had raised important issues about how the enforcement of Oracle’s copyright could affect software development but said these issues could be addressed through further proceedings on Google’s separate “fair use” defence in San Francisco federal court.

Reuters had previously reported that the Obama administration was locked in a fierce internal debate about what its positon should be in the case.

Verrilli's position is disappointing and betrays a basic lack of understanding of how APIs work, said Michael Barclay, special counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

US patent grants tipped to fall in 2015

Dennis Crouch on the Patently-O blog has predicted that US patent grants will fall in the 2015 fiscal year. However, the fall will only be slight, he said after assessing the data for the first two-thirds of the year.

The expected numbers through September 2015 will probably be just below the record high of more than 300,000 utility patents issued in fiscal year 2014.

“The expected return of 298,000 is only 2% below 2014 numbers but remains almost double the output throughout the first decade of this millennium,” Crouch noted.

The past five years have all set a new record for the number of patents granted. The USPTO itself has predicted a 2% drop in utility patent application filings in fiscal year 2015.

Nothing to declare but their genius

Rock band Led Zeppelin has denied liability in answer to a copyright infringement lawsuit over its classic song “Stairway to Heaven”. But it has agreed with one part of the complaint against it, ABA Journal reports.

The band said in a filing: “Answering paragraph 11 of the first amended complaint, including the first amended complaint’s footnote 1, Defendants admit that Led Zeppelin has been called one of the greatest bands in history and its members were and are exceptionally talented, but otherwise deny each and every allegation contained in paragraph 11 of the first amended complaint.”

The band is accused of lifting portions of the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus” in a lawsuit filed by the estate of songwriter Randy California. The suit was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The suit says: “Any reasonable observer, when comparing ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ must conclude that – at the very least – significant portions of the songs are nearly identical.”

Trolls make it to the Supreme Court

The term “patent troll” was used for the first time in a Supreme Court opinion this week, according to Fortune.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented with the Court’s 6-2 majority Commil v Cisco ruling that “a defendant’s belief regarding patent validity is not a defense to an induced infringement claim”.

Justice Scalia wrote: “I may add, however, that if the desirability of the rule we adopt were a proper consideration, it is by no means clear that the Court’s holding, which increases the in terrorem power of patent trolls, is preferable.”

In the case, the defendant Cisco argued that since a good faith belief in non-infringement is a defence against inducement liability, a good faith belief in the patent’s invalidity should similarly be a defence. Meanwhile, the plaintiff Commil took the position that knowledge of the patent is all that is required to find liability for inducement - even knowledge that the induced acts would be infringing is not needed.

The Court rejected both propositions, finding that Commil’s argument that knowledge of the patent is all that is required for induced infringement liability is an incorrect reading of the clear language of its rulings in Global-Tech and Aro II. Those cases, the majority noted, made it clear that the defendant must also know that the induced actions would infringe the patent in question.

Justice Scalia’s dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, supported the majority’s decision on this issue.

Also on the blog this week:

Are more changes needed to IPR proceedings?

What are the IP industry disrupters?

Moving towards some FRAND and SEP answers

In our news and analysis this week:

Supreme Court decision may result in more attorneys’ fees awards

The fine line between abuse and fair use at the PTAB

Acorda questions real parties-in-interest in first Bass IPR

Italy to join Unitary Patent – minister

IP fees to soar in UAE this week

US software patents – Obtainable, enforceable, and as important as ever

2014 median US patent litigation damages were second-lowest in 20 years: PwC

IP Clinic: How can we encourage our employees to patent more?

IPOS develops patent services for businesses

Why Philip Morris is suing the UK government

Supreme Court defends presumption of patent validity

Court offers pointers on settlement agreements

Hague gives teeth to provisional rights

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