The NFL Apparently Can’t Stop You From Saying “Super Bowl”

February 5th, 2016

It’s long been the belief that the NFL owned the trademark to the term “Super Bowl,” the name of the grand spectacle that is the NFL’s championship game, and thus, retailers could not use the term in advertising without being an official partner of the NFL. Apparently, that’s not the case.

The Detroit News details in a report that, despite this prevailing notion, the Super Bowl falls under the nominative use category. University of Michigan law professor Jessica Litman defined the term to the News stating “you’re allowed to use the name of the thing to talk about the thing.”

“A neighborhood tavern cannot legally say it’s the official Super Bowl spot to drink Pabst and eat chicken wings until you turn greener than AstroTurf,” Neal Rubin writes in his report. “That suggests an association with the game that it did not purchase. But the same tavern can rightfully say it has 37 wide-screen TVs and is therefore a fine place to watch the Super Bowl.”

Rubin adds that the reason many don’t take advantage of this is that the NFL aggressively threatens litigation against any retailer that tries to use the term. Even if a retailer would take the NFL to court and win, it would still mean spending six figures in legal fees. As a result, bars, delis, and electronic stores alike just get around it by using the term “The Big Game” or something similar.

It just goes to show how trademark litigation is something many hope to avoid by any means. And when a company reaches a certain size and scope like the NFL has, it usually means their trademark is easier to protect, even when they’re standing on shaky legal ground. In this case, retailers around the country find it easier to avoid using the term Super Bowl, and the NFL is more than satisfied with that.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Trademarks , ,

The Chinese Companies Beating Apple at their Own Game

February 3rd, 2016

Last week, Apple announced they missed their Q1 sales projections on the iPhone and iPad. Even though this is an ‘S’ model year for the iPhone, and there haven’t been many meaningful changes to their tablet, it’s a significant step back for the company. Why the slowdown? Tim Cook mentioned a softening of the Chinese market, and China may in fact be a culprit, in more ways than one.

Our researchers conducted a patent analysis of both Apple and some emerging Chinese competitors and found that three companies, Lenovo, Meizu and Xiaomi, have been growing their patent portfolio, a trend directly in contrast with Apple’s downward innovation spiral.

Priority year gives the best indication of when an invention is made, and Apple inventions published 2010-2015 originate from as far back as 1992, whereas Lenovo, Xiaomi and Meizu originate far more recently (2006, 2008 and 2009) meaning the Asian portfolios are far younger.

The upward trend certainly points in a very intriguing direction for these companies. China has invested heavily in country-wide innovation, both financially and in legislation that makes it easier for companies to patent their inventions. So while Apple has dominated in sales, one has to wonder if their ability for launching some of the most innovative products on the market has reached a tipping point. Obviously, there is a ton of time for this to play itself out, but Apple has to be sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in China.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , , , , , , ,

NPE Asks Jury to Award Them $532 Million in iMessage Case

February 2nd, 2016

VirnetX, a notorious non-practicing entity (NPE), asked a federal jury to award them $532 million against Apple in an infringement case.

VirnetX had previously won a $368.2 million verdict against Apple, but an appeals court threw out the damage award and ordered a new trial. This case is a retrial on those issues plus some newer generations of Apple products.

The dispute is over Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VirnetX holds a variety of patents relating to technology used in creating these networks. The company claims that Apple’s own VPN technology, as well as its FaceTime and iMessage services, all infringe on its patents.

It’s worth noting that Skype paid $23 million to settle a patent dispute with VirnetX, so this particular NPE is fairly relentless. And Apple stands to lose big here, especially if VirnetX can prove that newer versions of Apple products (such as ones that include iMessage) do in fact infringe on their patents. VirnetX had a victory against Apple before, and if they can win again, it may sting in Cupertino, where patent litigation is becoming a costly distraction.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , , , , , , , ,

Report: USPTO Tribunals are Beginning to Ease Up on Patent Filers

February 1st, 2016

Despite a drumbeat from patent owners to ease the effects of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tribunals, filers are actually better off than they think.

Reuters’ Andrew Chung says that even though patent owners have lobbied Congress to rein in the USPTO’s tribunals, which have been likened to death squads for patents, there’s actually a declining risk of having an application turned down.

“According to a Reuters analysis of data supplied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the number of petitions for inter partes review accepted for trial has fallen from 87 percent in 2013 to 75 percent in 2014, and to 68 percent in the last fiscal year. The rate for another type of review for covered business methods has similarly declined.”

With patent activity just short of an all-time high in 2015, it’s easy to see why patent owners are in scrambling to make sure they’re still protected, specifically with the pile of patent litigation piling up. But with all the angst the tribunals have conjured up, it should come as a relief to firms around the country that progress is in fact being made in having their filings upheld.

To read the full analysis on WestlawNext Practitioner Insights, click here.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , ,

Google patents rolling box for drone delivery

January 29th, 2016

Google is doubling down on drone delivery, and it just took a big step forward by receiving a patent for a rolling box.

According to Geek Wire, the box would work with Google’s drone delivery system, Project Wing. The box would be able to communicate with the drone to ensure  the security of the package once it is dropped at the customer’s doorstep.

“Once the drone flies in and drops a package into the receptacle, the receptacle can move on its own power to a ‘secure location, such as a garage,’” the patent said. Is this enough like The Jetsons for you? Amazon is of course working on its own drone-powered delivery system.

That’s quite the view of the future, and if the application is as effective as the idea, it could be a profitable one for the technology company. As the report says, Amazon has worked extensively on drone delivery for years, but has Google’s latest breakthrough beat them to the punch? Can Amazon develop its own smart box without infringing on Google’s patent? Or will we be in for a patent war that involves drones to? It seems we’re about to find out.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , , , , ,

CES Hoverboard Raid Raises Interesting Patent Questions

January 15th, 2016

Chances are you’ve seen someone rolling down the street on a “hoverboard,” the scooter-esque gadgets taking the world by storm. But the emergence of these boards has created some interesting intellectual property questions, one of which presented itself in a big way at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Two U.S. federal marshals showed up at CES to conduct a raid of Changzhou First International Trade Co. The target of the raid, according to Wired, was the company’s product “the Trotter,” which differs from the typical hoverboard design by using one big wheel in the middle, as opposed to a wheel on each side. That’s a design that board maker Future Motion says it has patented.

“US District Judge Miranda Du issued a restraining order, seizure order, and temporary injunction after deciding that Future Motion is likely to succeed in showing that Changzhou has infringed on its patents. Future Motion had argued that its business would be irreparably harmed by the attention that Changzhou’s scooters were receiving as CES, the largest consumer electronics show of the year. An additional hearing on the matter is scheduled for later this month, and Changzhou will have the opportunity to defend itself.”

The hoverboard phenomenon poses an interesting challenge to IP professionals. The principle of all of these boards is the same, and the designs are all very closely aligned. It’s difficult to say just what a company’s design patents cover, and what constitutes as infringement. Over the years, we’ve seen smartphone companies do battle over similar technology being used in each other’s devices, and it’s created a perfect storm of innovation and litigation. The hoverboard sensation may be the next craze to create a set of complex legal questions, and the raid at CES certainly seems like the opening act of the story.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , , , ,

The Trademark Awakens: How One Designer Waged War with LucasFilm For Years

January 14th, 2016

Darth Vader may not have looked as imposing in Star Wars without being flanked by his white-clad henchmen, the Stormtroopers. And as iconic as the Stormtrooper helmet and armor has become over the years, it also is the fodder of one of the great trademark cases of our time.

As the latest in the Star Wars series –  The Force Awakens – demolishes every box office record there is, The Tech Times relays the saga of Andrew Ainsworth, a designer who had to defeat an Evil Empire of his own: LucasFilm.

In 1976, Ainsworth was approached to build a prototype for the Stormtrooper helmet and armor. George Lucas himself approved the prototype design, and the Stormtroopers got their signature style for the film’s 1977 theatrical release. All was quiet until the late 1980’s, when Ainsworth needed to pay off student loans, and used the original molds for the Stormtrooper helmet to produce and sell a few replicas. Eventually, he received a legal document indicating that LucasFilm was suing him for copyright infringement in California and London.

The report says Ainsworth didn’t defend himself in court because he thought Lucas “just had a twisted sense of humor,” and his absence in court gave LucasFilm a legal victory in the California courts. LucasFilm demanded damages of $20 million.

The fight was on. In “LucasFilm Limited v Ainsworth,” Ainsworth’s lawyers took an interesting legal strategy en route to a victory:

“Ainsworth’s side decided to attack the case in a different way and that is by asserting that the Stormtrooper design is not an artwork, which would extend Lucas’ copyright ownership, but an industrial design. It took him nine years and three British courts before he finally won the war. He wasn’t awarded financially, though, which forced him to pay off legal debts in his own, that is, until “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” happened and demand for the Stormtrooper replica and props surged. He is now free from debt he accrued from legal fees and is able to sell his replicas anywhere in the world except in the United States (U.S.) where LucasFilm won.

So next time you retreat to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and you catch a glimpse of a Stormtrooper, remember Ainsworth, the father of the Stormtrooper industrial design.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Trademarks , , , , , , , ,

How Auto Industry Heavyweights Like Toyota, GM, Hyundai and Nissan are Leading the Autonomous Vehicle Revolution

January 13th, 2016

Self-driving cars have emerged as the hottest innovation news story of 2016 so far, but which companies have actually put the most R&D dollars behind their quest to create a driver-less car?

After a flurry of announcements from the likes of Ford, GM, Lyft, Microsoft, Google and many others at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), autonomous driving seems destined to be the future. Last week, we unveiled new research in our 2016 State of Self-Driving Automotive Innovation report that analyzes global innovation activity in the field of self-driving automobiles over the last five years. It identifies the world’s leaders in new technology development and makes predictions about the future of driverless cars.

Following were some highlights of the report:

  • Established Auto Industry Players – Not Silicon Valley – Are Leading the Charge: Auto industry bellwethers, such as Toyota, Bosch, Denso, Hyundai, GM and Nissan, are the global leaders in self-driving vehicle innovation.  Toyota alone has patented over 2,000 new driverless tech inventions in the last five years, double the number two player Bosch.
  • Asia Gets Serious About Automation: Asia is the clear leader in the field with 11 of the world’s top 20 self-driving vehicle innovators hailing from the continent.
  • Field is Ripe for Partnership: While auto industry forerunners dominate the category, a number of more specialized technology and research institutions have amassed a noteworthy collection of self-driving vehicle-related patents.  Among them, LG, Samsung, Google, Boeing, IBM, Amazon, Carnegie Mellon and MIT have all contributed significant new intellectual property in the category over the last five years.

  • Apple Primed for Auto Deal with Tesla: Thomson Reuters IP & Science analysts predict that Apple will make a similar collaboration announcement after CES; although Apple is not a leading innovator in this field—with only one invention overall in the area of self-driving vehicles—a partnership with Tesla would be a predictable move for both companies, based on a thorough review of both companies’ patent portfolios.

Certainly, this category is in a state of major flux, and a lot can change in a very short period of time. But on this current trajectory, it certainly appears the next big breakthrough in this category is more likely to come from Detroit than Palo Alto.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , , , , , , ,

The case of the Washington Redskins may go all the way to the Supreme Court

January 8th, 2016

The Washington Redskins are the NFC East champions and will take the field in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs this Sunday, but could they be on their way to an even bigger national stage?

In June of 2014, the USPTO canceled the team’s trademark on the grounds that it may disparage individuals or groups. The ruling was seen as a major setback for the team, who insisted the use of the moniker “Redskins” was meant to honor Native Americans.

But now, that ruling has been overturned by a federal appeals court. The court ruled that the section of the Lanham Act that gives the government the ability to deny trademark protection to offensive or disparaging marks is unconstitutional. In the wake of the ruling, the government may appeal to the Supreme Court.

If it gets to the highest court in the land, it will be a fascinating case to watch play out. Washington’s owner Daniel Synder has been steadfast that he’ll keep his team’s name under any circumstance, but it’s hard to imagine him doing so if any vendor on a street corner can sell a shirt with “Redskins” without having to acquire an NFL license or pay the team a royalty.  But if the nine Justices hear the case and rule in favor of the team, it may put the issue to rest – at least in a legal sense – for good.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Trademarks , , , , ,

Ford rakes in record number of patents in 2015

January 7th, 2016

Ford received a record number of new patents this year.

The upswing in innovation was fueled by the Detroit-based automaker’s research and innovation center in Silicon Valley opened this past January. The facility substantially outpaced the number of patents filed by other Ford facilities, and overall, contributed to an almost-100 percent increase in invention disclosure submissions in North America over the last three years.

Overall, Ford had increased filing of electrification patents nearly 200 percent in the past five years including more than 400 filed in 2014 and the pace should only increase with this month’s announcement that Ford will spend $4.5 billion by 2020 on electrified vehicles.

Internationally, Ford employees in Asia Pacific increased submissions more than 140 percent, and Europe saw an increase of more than 50 percent.

This effort to step up their innovation is clearly part of a strategy to alter how the market perceived Ford. As we saw in our 2015 Automotive Report, the industry is changing, and Ford does not want to be left behind. Our observations saw Japanese automakers leading the way in patent assignments, and Ford obviously wants to bring that honor back to American shores. Time will tell if Ford can move the needle for good, but they’ve certainly taken a big first step.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , , ,