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Fifth US patent reform delay, Alibaba’s pre-IPO patent spree, UK Patent Box attracts Pfizer, MPHJ Vermont setback, at home with Kim Dotcom – the week in IP

Senator Patrick Leahy delaying mark up of patent reform for a fifth time, World IP Day celebrations, Alibaba buying patents ahead of its IPO, the UK Patent Box attracting Pfizer, a federal court sending the Vermont attorney general’s lawsuit against MPHJ back to state courts, and Kim Dotcom’s new political party were among the stories hitting the headlines in the past week

It was a busy week in the Supreme Court for patent law watchers. On Monday, there were oral arguments in Nautilus v Biosig. On Tuesday, two decisions were announced in Octane v Icon and Highmark v Allcare. And on Wednesday, oral arguments were heard in Limelight v Akamai.

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

Groundhog Day for Leahy

On Thursday, Senator Patrick Leahy delayed the mark up of his Patent Transparency and Improvements Act for a fifth time.

In a statement that sounded much like previous ones, Leahy said: “I am continuing work with other Members of the Committee to address constructive comments from both sides about the patent legislation on our agenda. I am encouraged by the progress that has been made over the recess and I will continue work with Members this week on the Manager’s amendment.”

The latest delay came two days after the Supreme Court had released two opinions on fee shifting in patent cases. Fee shifting has been a controversial issue in discussions of Leahy’s bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy had previously delayed discussions for more than two weeks during the April recess. This week's further delay has left patent reform advocates worried that time is running out to get legislation passed.

In the run-up to the latest delay, almost 400 companies sent a letter to Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley urging reform. Microsoft was one of them, and in a blog post Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, commented: “In any compromise there are always areas where one or more of the interested parties wish the outcome would go further, while others feel it might go too far. We certainly feel that way in some respects, but we also recognise that meaningful compromise on important measures, including fee-shifting, a path to discovery reform, and increased transparency, will provide new tools to fight frivolous lawsuits, while still protecting the patent rights of America’s innovators.”

World IP Day

World IP Day was celebrated on April 26 with more than 280 events in 91 countries. You can see some of the photos from around the world on WIPO’s World IP Day Facebook page and view all the posters prepared for the day around the world here

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron marked the occasion by commenting: “The inventive spirit is hard-wired into us.” In Europe, some IP practitioners marked the occasion by taking part in a fun run called the “Marcathlon” in Madrid.

Elsewhere, Kenya proclaimed its activities around the day as the best in the whole of Africa. It held a so-called IP Moot and an IP Forum.

Managing IP marked the day by putting together a quiz about IP in the movies that you can see here. The answers were revealed this week. We also interviewed WIPO Director General Francis Gurry ahead of the day.

April 26 is the day on which the WIPO Convention came into force in 1970.

Alibaba and the shopping spree

Ahead of what could the largest US initial public offering ever, Chinese ecommerce firm Alibaba has been stocking up on patents as well as filing for new ones to boost its IP presence.

Bloomberg reported that Alibaba has bought 102 patents, with 20 of them from IBM, and has 300 pending. The firm is 24% owned by Yahoo!, which has 1,500 patents.

On his IP CloseUp blog, Bruce Berman pointed out that this seems part of a wider trend of firms bulking up with IP rights for defensive reasons in the run-up to an IPO or soon after. Twitter had just nine patents before its IPO but has added 900 since, reportedly paying IBM $36 million for them. Facebook had 12 patents before floating but bought 750 patents from IBM after it went public.

“An interesting pattern is emerging for e-commerce businesses: raise a lot of money, go to the IBM or other well-known stock room and buy (not license) what they can for whatever price so they can at least appear to be IP competitive,” said Berman. “Sometimes, the perceived value of a patent portfolio is as important as their actual value, especially if there is little likelihood they will be tested.”

Pfizer open to Patent Box

A 2012 government measure aimed at stimulating research and development in the UK is proving a big attraction for Pfizer in its takeover approach for AstraZeneca. The so-called Patent Box allows a 10% tax rate on profits earned from patents granted by a European patent office, instead of the regular 21%, and is being phased in over four years from April last year.

According to the Financial Times, Pfizer has described the Patent Box as an “attractive incentive” and suggested it might move capital and jobs to the UK to take advantage of it.

“The United Kingdom has created attractive incentives for companies to manufacture products and maintain and protect intellectual property, and we have seen that capital and jobs have followed these types of incentives,” Ian Read, Pfizer CEO, said in a statement aimed at Astra shareholders.

Pfizer increased its offer for AstraZeneca to £63 billion ($106 billion) today, an offer that was promptly rejected.

Vermont’s federal court troll victory

Bill Sorrell, Vermont’s attorney general and vocal patent troll opponent, this week celebrated a federal court victory when US District Court Judge William Sessions sent Sorrell’s case against MPHJ Technologies back to Vermont’s state courts.

Sorrell said the lawsuit against MPHJ, a firm widely viewed as a patent troll that is being targeted by Vermont and other states, was the first of its kind filed by a state attorney general. The lawsuit was filed before Vermont last year passed legislation targeting patent trolls sending out demand letters.

At home with Kim Dotcom

The BBC this week ran an interesting profile with Kim Dotcom, the man holed up in New Zealand accused of running a massive copyright piracy operation with Megaupload. He does not seem to be doing too badly. The BBC reported the German-born Dotcom enjoying celebrity status in New Zealand, holding long meetings with his legal advisors in his extravagant mansion and putting on “swim with Kim” events for members of his newly-launched political party The Internet Party.

Replying to questions about his motives, Dotcom told the BBC: "There's no personal interest behind it… Changing copyright law primarily will solve the problems that the content industry is creating around piracy."

Managing IP published the following stories this week, available to subscribers and trialists:

Why the Supreme Court is taking issue with the term “insolubly ambiguous”

The new BPTO president’s backlog challenge in Brazil

Interview with WIPO Director General Francis Gurry – part 2

US refrains from downgrading India in USTR Special 301 Report

EU clarifies antitrust rules on asserting standard-essential patents

SCOTUS preview: Joint infringement up for debate in Limelight v Akamai

US Supreme Court loosens fee shifting standard in Octane and Highmark decisions

CJEU to hear stem cell patent case

Generics need patent protection too

Supreme Court considers patent ambiguity in Nautilus v Biosig

Court challenge “likely” if USPTO doesn’t change post-Myriad guidance

Apple faces EU test for store design trade mark

US patent lawyers offer blunt criticism of Supreme Court and Federal Circuit

Guest post: Sherry Knowles responds to USPTO comments on new Myriad guidelines

From the blog:

Why brands will win from new gTLDs

World IP Day movie quiz: the answers

Learn, network and share best practices at the 2014 Women’s Leadership Forum

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