Nestle, Gilead, Frack, Starbucks: Intellectual Property
By Victoria Slind-Flor - Nov 26, 2013 7:05 AM ET
Nestle SA (NESN) lost a patent on one of its Nespresso single-serve coffee machines, the latest legal setback for one of its fastest-growing brands.
The European Patent Office revoked the patent, which covered the lower-cost Pixie brewer, in oral proceedings on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, according to Rainer Osterwalder, a Munich-based EPO spokesman. Nestec SA, the unit of Nestle that held the patent, can appeal the decision once the full minutes of the proceedings are released in a few weeks, he said.
Nestle, the world’s largest coffee maker, has said its Nespresso machines are protected by 1,700 patents, yet to date the company has been unable to stem the flow of less-expensive copycat capsules from rivals like D.E Master Blenders 1753 and Mondelez International Inc. (MDLZ)
Last month, an EPO appeals board revoked another Nespresso patent, and in April the Vevey, Switzerland-based company lost a battle to block Dualit Ltd. from making capsules in Britain.
“We are disappointed by the decision,” which “fails to recognize the unique innovations inherent in the design of the Nespresso system,” Diane Duperret, a spokeswoman for the brand, said by e-mail. Nespresso will decide whether to appeal once the EPO publishes the ruling, she said.
The patent covered a brewing unit “that is of simpler conception and of lower cost compared to existing brewing units,” according to the patent specification on file with the EPO. In 2011, Nestle introduced the Nespresso Pixie, which costs 149 euros ($201) on its website, compared with 599 euros for its Gran Maestria machine.
Since its debut in 1986, Nespresso has become one of the company’s fastest-growing and most profitable brands. In 2010, Nespresso accounted for about 15 percent of Nestle’s growth, Nomura analyst David Hayes has estimated. The Swiss company forecast in April the brand may achieve about 500 million Swiss francs ($549 million) of additional sales this year. Nestle stopped reporting sales details for Nespresso last year.
Gilead’s Indian Patent for Hepatitis C Drug Opposed by Aid Group
Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD)’s application for an Indian patent on its hepatitis C treatment is being opposed by the New York-based Open Society Foundation’s Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, India’s Financial Times reported.
Tahir Amin, who heads the organization, told the Financial Times the drug is an “old science, known compound” and that the patent shouldn’t be granted in India.
Medecins San Frontieres, the international medical aid organization also known as Doctors Without Borders, said that even if Gilead offers a discount on its $80,000 price for the drug, cost would make it inaccessible to most with hepatitis C in low and middle-income countries, according to the Financial Times.
Foster City, California-based Gilead, which has won European regulatory approval for the drug, said it will look at opportunities to incorporate the treatment into its drug-access programs, the newspaper reported.
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Trade Secrets/Industrial Espionage
Halliburton Argues Fracking Fluid Recipes Must Stay Secret
Halliburton Co. (HAL), the Houston-based oilfield services company, argued that Wyoming’s trade secret laws protect against the disclosure of the chemical formulas for the fluids used in the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, Associated Press reported.
The argument came in a case before the state’s high court stemming from disclosure requirements put into place in 2010 and requests environmental groups had made for a list of the fracking fluids’ ingredients, AP reported.
After the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conversation Commission refused the environmental groups’ request, the groups sued, complaining the commission had failed to determine whether the trade secrets status for the fracking chemicals was justified, according to AP.
Oral arguments were made in the case Nov. 20, and Wyoming Chief Justice Marilyn Kite said the court will issue a written ruling, the wire service reported.
Amanda Knox Defense Expert Calls Work on Her Case Trade Secret
A forensic DNA expert employed in the murder defense of U.S. exchange student Amanda Knox declined to release e-mails and consulting services agreements, claiming they are protected trade secrets, according to an article by a lawyer from San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
Knox was an exchange student in Perugia, Italy, when her roommate Meredith Kercher was killed in 2007. Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of murder in 2009 and sentenced to prison before the verdict was overturned. Earlier this year, Italy’s highest court approved a prosecutor’s request to try the pair again.
A letter from the Boise State Office of General Counsel, said Hampikian’s work on Knox’s defense is of potential economic value and therefore recognized as a trade secret under Idaho law.
The university was responding to a letter from a journalist researching the case who found no court documents backing up Hampikian’s public statements that his research played a part on Knox’s successful appeal of her 2009 conviction, according to Mondaq.
GoldieBlox Says Toy Video Doesn’t Infringe Beastie Boys’ Song
GoldieBlox Inc., a toy company founded to inspire girls to go into engineering and science, asked a federal court to declare that an ad it created doesn’t infringe the copyright for “Girls,” a 1987 song by the Beastie Boys.
The suit, filed Nov. 21 in federal court in Oakland, California, is related to a video that has received more than 8 million hits on Google Inc.’s YouTube video-sharing website.
The video is set to a new recording of the song with new lyrics, Oakland-based GoldieBlox said, claiming the ad is a parody created “specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song.”
Lyrics for the two versions are printed side by side in the complaint. In the Beastie Boys’ version, girls are said to be good for doing dishes, cleaning house and doing the laundry.
In the GoldieBlox version, girls are “more than princess maids” and they can build spaceships, “code the new app” and “grow up knowing that they can engineer that.”
The parody was created “to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect,” GoldieBlox said.
Lawyers for the Beastie Boys have told GoldieBlox that unauthorized use of the song is “a big problem” with “very significant impact,” according to the complaint.
A representative of the band told the Huffington Post that no demand letter had been sent or complaint filed against GoldieBlox when the toy company sued.
The case is GoldieBlox Inc. v. Island Def Jam Music Group, 13-cv-05428, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).
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Starbucks’ Compensation Demand Prompts Coffee Shop Name Change
A Thai court had ordered Damrong Maslee to change the name of his “Starbung Coffee” in 2012, and after he failed to do so, the Seattle-based coffee giant demanded compensation for what it said was trademark infringement, according to the newspaper.
Damrong used a green-and-white round sign with a Muslim man in the center instead of the double-tailed mermaid that is the Starbucks logo, the Post reported.
He has changed the shape of his logo and his coffee company is now called “Bung’s Tears,” the newspaper reported, noting that “bung” means “brother” in Malay.
Korean Airlines Sues Florida Travel Service for Infringement
Korean Air Lines Co. (003490), the Seoul-based carrier, sued a Florida-based travel-services company for trademark infringement.
Skypass, of North Miami Beach, filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in September 2012 to register “sky pass” as a mark to be used for travel services. The airline initiated administrative proceedings in June to block registration, according the patent office database. The evidence-sharing phase of those proceedings ends in February.
In a complaint filed Nov. 22 in federal court in Miami, the airline accused Skypass LLC of unauthorized use of the trademarks. According to the complaint, the Florida company’s use of “oneplanetskypass.com” infringed “Skypass,” which the airline said it has used for 15 years for a membership-rewards program.
The airline asked the federal court to bar the Florida company’s use of both “Skypass” and “sky pass,” and for awards of the oneplanettskypass.com domain name, together with the pending trademark application, money damages, litigation costs and attorney fees.
Skypass didn’t respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment on the suit.
The case is Korean Air Lines Co., v. Skypass LLC, 13-cv-24268, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).
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