Who knew that there really was an Aunt Jemima! Her real name was Anna Short Harrington, and she was an employee of Quaker Oats who died in 1955. And now her heirs want a piece of a fortune they believe is rightfully theirs.
D.W. Hunter, the great grandson of Harrington, filed a class action lawsuit against PepsiCo and its related subsidiaries on behalf of Harrington’s great grandchildren. The suit alleges that PepsiCo Inc., Quaker Oats, Pinnacle Foods and Hillshire Brands Co. deliberately withheld information that identified Mrs. Harrington as a former employee of Quaker Oats while they exploited her image and her recipes for over 60 years without paying a royalty to her or her family.
What we cannot believe is that he found an attorney to represent him and file this lawsuit!
The dethroned former dictator of Panama – who is in federal lockup for drug dealing, racketeering and money laundering – is suing Activision Entertainment for the “blatant misuse, unlawful exploitation and misappropriation for economic gain” of Noriega’s image in its “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” videogame!
Noriega – known as “pineapple face” because of his heavily pockmarked complexion – is seeking punitive damages for “lost profits.” Lost profits from what? What product is Noriega producing and selling from prison that is losing sales to a videogame?
The answer to our first question is Thomas Girardi of Girardi & Keese of Los Angeles.
In a previous diatribe, we pointed out how Microsoft, by enforcing patents it purchased from Rockstar Consortium (patents it did not develop and does not practice), has become one of the patent trolls it so vigorously lambastes. But since Rockstar Consortium has now filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google and several cellphone manufacturers, that makes Rockstar a patent troll, too!
In fact, Rockstar fits the classic definition of a patent troll. Rockstar did not develop the patented technology it is now asserting. It purchased the patents from Nortel. And Rockstar does not practice the patents it is enforcing since Rockstar produces no products or services.
Here, in a summary form, are five lessons we can learn from Alice:
- Financial methods, even if computerized, are not patentable when well-known methods are merely implemented on a generic computer.
This is not the first instance of a major, high-tech corporation asserting patents for inventions it did not invent and does not practice. This is simply the most recent instance of a major, high-tech corporation asserting patents for inventions it did not invent and does not practice.
It appears that Microsoft has been licensing a portfolio of over 300 patents to several Android device manufacturers. This was revealed when the Chinese Ministry of Commerce published a list of Microsoft patents that includes 73 standard-essential patents plus another 127 patents that Microsoft claims are used by Android devices.
If you want to join the Open Source movement, hop aboard an electric car for a ride. Or so says Tesla. Yesterday they opened their patents to all. Their press release begins with a dramatic statement, “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement.”
Don’t be misled by this publicity stunt – behind it is a well thoughtout business decision. There are two ways to increase your revenue: (1) fight for a larger slice of the pie; (2) increase the size of the pie. In the telecom world, everybody (at least in the industrial countries) already has a phone. It’s hard toincrease the size of the pie, so everybody is vying for a larger market share. That’s where patents become handy. Hence, the chart of patent infringement lawsuits involving smart phone makers looks like a spaghetti plate – everyone suing everyone else. After all, patent is little more than a right to sue.
Last year, Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama. The suit claimed unauthorized use of Lee’s name on souvenirs sold by the museum.
In February of this year, Lee’s attorneys informed the court that a settlement had been reached. Lee’s attorneys re-contacted the court last week to announce that a settlement had not, in fact, been reached, and requested that the lawsuit be re-instated.
Microsoft recently paid between $150 and $200 million (based on different press reports) to acquire the Osterhout Design Group. The purpose for the acquisition was Osterhout’s treasure trove of “wearable computer” patents.
As the litigation drags on between Apple and Samsung and each side accuses the other of various acts of infringement, every once in a while an interesting bit of information comes to light. This month, Apple explained that it is entitled to $2.2 billion in damages because of...timing.
According to Apple, Samsung infringed five Apple patents, using crucial technology in over 37 million Samsung smartphones and tablets sold between August 2011 and the end of 2013. Samsung used certain elements borrowed from the iPhone to make its own devices easier to use, claims Apple attorney Christopher Vellturo, who says that the infringement came at a time that the smartphone market was "in a profound state of change and growth because so many people [were]...buying phones."
Remember the toymakers who used a Beastie Boys song without permission and then filed suit against the band when they were asked to stop using the song? (see "GoldieBlox and the Three Beasties").
GoldieBlox had argued that their usage of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls" was fair use because it was a "parody" - actually, that they intended it to transform the song into "a powerful anthem for girls" (with an accompanying video that, conveniently, features little girls playing with GoldieBlox products).
The two surviving Beasties argued that the song wasn't a parody, it was clearly an advertisement, and that their late member Adam Yauch had specified in his will that the band's songs not be used for advertising purposes.