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Oscars selfie debate, top patent troll targets, Batmobile copyright fight – the week in IP

A debate about who owns the copyright on the Oscars selfie, the top targets for patent trolls, India cranking up patent filing fees and a lawsuit over the Batmobile were among the intellectual property stories hitting the headlines this week

The Oscar for best copyright story goes to…

The selfie that broke the record for most ever retweeted photo on Twitter during the Oscars this week has also sparked a debate about who owns copyright on the image.

The Associated Press asked permission to reproduce the photo from Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres, who instigated the celebrity-filled photo and provided the phone from which it was taken. However, some point out that DeGeneres may not own the copyright on the image, arguing instead that it belongs to actor Bradley Cooper because he pressed the button on the phone to take it.

Others believe DeGeneres owns copyright because she thought of the idea for the photo and executed it. They said Cooper could be argued as part of a “work made for hire” because it became apparent that his services were needed but there was not sufficient time to draw up an agreement. Another theory is that Oscars sponsor Samsung could claim co-owner status if it had asked DeGeneres to go into the audience and take the picture.

Copyright lawyers have poured scorn on some of these theories, especially the idea of Cooper being a “work for hire” because Cooper is not an employee of DeGeneres. One response was titled “Why Copyright Analysis Should Be Left To Copyright Lawyers”.In it, Arent Fox partner Paul Fakler, said: “It is quite pos­si­ble that nobody owns a copy­right in this photo because nobody con­tributed suf­fi­cient orig­i­nal pho­to­graphic author­ship.”

Judging by the number of comments the issue is receiving on a post on Managing IP’s LinkedIn group (if you are not already a member, join our group to enter the debate) it is clear that the selfie throws up some interesting questions. However, while it would be entertaining to see Cooper, DeGeneres and anyone else claiming copyright on the photo duke it out in court, these questions are likely to remain theoretical.

Another IP-related camera phone photo story emerged this week also when it emerged French chefs were unhappy at people snapping pictures of their creations in restaurants. Some have banned photos from being taken in their establishments, arguing that the publishing photos of their food – referred to in some circles as “food porn” – takes intellectual property away from the restaurant. Other chefs argue their French counterparts should loosen up, pointing out social networks are the new word of mouth and are good for business.

India cranks up patent filing fees

The Government of India has published new patent amendment rules that increase the official fee for filing for patents by 60% for individuals and 100% for many entities.

According to reports, individuals have a 60% hike in filing fees, rising to 1,600 ($16.35) rupees from 1,000 previously. The fee will stay at 4,000 for those defined under a new category of “small entities”. The fee for entities other than these has increased increase to 8,000 rupees from 4,000 rupees. To qualify as a small entity, investment in plants and machinery should be below about $1.6 million.

POW! Copyright fight over Batmobile

The 9th circuit is to consider whether the Batmobile – the car Batman used to help clean up Gotham City in comics, a television show and films – is protectable under copyright law. Warner Bros is bringing James Bond, Freddy Krueger and Godzilla into the fight to back it up.

Warner Bros was unhappy with Californian mechanic Mark Towle for selling replicas of the car and sued him for infringement in 2011. Towle, who sold a few replicas at $90,000 each, argues that the Batmobile is merely functional and he had not intended to mislead buyers into thinking the cars were associated with DC Comics, owned by Warner Bros.

DC points to previous rulings on a car in the original Gone in 60 Seconds film and Freddy Krueger’s glove in Nightmare on Elm Street as examples where something closely associated with a well-known character was protected by a court. In response to Towle’s argument that the Batmobile has changed over the years and therefore is not “sufficiently delineated”, DC says James Bond is protected as a character despite being depicted by four actors over 16 films and Godzilla was protected despite having inconsistently “shifted from evil to good”.

MOU from Russia with love

Russia has not been getting much love from other countries recently, given its position in the unstable crisis in Ukraine. But its intellectual property office has. The Korean Intellectual Property Office has signed a memorandum of understanding on comprehensive cooperation in intellectual property rights with the Federal Service for Intellectual Property of Russia.

The MOU is aimed at the advancement and development of new cooperation in intellectual property rights between the two countries, which in recent years has seen little progress.

“This is highly meaningful in that it will prepare the foundations to support bilateral cooperation in cutting-edge technologies, which was discussed at a summit meeting held between the Korean and Russian presidents in November last year,” said the Korean Intellectual Property Office.


The MOU develops upon existing cooperation in common prior art searches, and also enhances cooperation through the Patent Prosecution Highway, patent information exchanges, the provision of traditional knowledge database, and training on IPRs.

Top patent troll targets revealed

An insight into how busy trolls are keeping the IP counsel of some firms has been revealed. Fortune has announced the 10 biggest patent troll targets, with AT&T being sued the most in 2013.

The wireless carrier was sued 54 times by patent trolls last year, followed by Google with 43, Verizon with 42, Apple with 41, Samsung and Amazon with 39, Dell and Sony with 44, Huawei with 32, and Blackberry with 31. This meant all of the top 10 targets were sued by a patent troll at least once every 12 days.

These statistics were compiled by RPX, a defensive patent aggregator that aims to buy up potentially problematic patents on the open market before trolls can. It does this in exchange for a subscription fee, which 168 companies pay.

RPX said non-practicing entities filed 3,608 new suits in 2013, up 19% on the 3,042 in 2012. NPE suits made up 67% of all new patent cases filed last year.

Google is the top troll target when all NPE cases filed and still unresolved as of December 2013 are taken into account. It was fighting 72 active cases at the end of last year, followed by AT&T with 70, Apple with 68, Samsung with 63, Sony with 58, Amazon with 54, Verizon with 46, HTC with 42, LG Electronics with 42 and Dell with 41.

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