Wealth of Ideas Blog

Trademark Woes for Apple

We hate to seem repetitious, but we hereby present yet another blog post about Apple. What other company provides such a wealth of blog topics from its lawsuits in all areas of intellectual property?

While Apple celebrates its success in its lawsuit against Samsung and attempts to secure a permanent injunction on as many of its competitors' products as possible, the steady stream of lawsuits filed against Apple continues unabated. And in an ironic twist for the computer company known for its iconic designs, some of Apple's legal woes have to do with design patents and trademarks.

Of Music, Art, Trademarks and a 45-Year-Old Banana

It may be spotty and four decades old, but the iconic banana image Andy Warhol designed for the Velvet Underground's debut album in 1967 is at the center of a very modern copyright and trademark battle.

Although the Velvet Underground disbanded in 1972, their music lives on among hipsters, college kids and anyone who appreciates Andy Warhol's art. The Velvet Underground were part of the same scene as Warhol, perhaps inextricably so because he was also the band's manager and producer, and that's where the legal complications begin in our current case.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

On the heels of Apple's win over Samsung, some in the tech industry have pointed out that Apple has been known to copy electronics designs that its designers found aesthetically pleasing. Not only have they mentioned it, they've also created a photo essay of the similarities between Apple products and Braun radios and speakers from the 1950s and 1960s.

Besides basing the physical appearance of some of its electronics on Braun products designed by Dieter Rams, head designer at Braun for almost 30 years, Apple also based the graphic interface of the iPad music app on the look of the Braun tape recorder.

Samsung Dealt $1 Billion Blow in Lawsuit with Apple

On Friday, August 24, the jury in the Apple v. Samsung case found that Samsung had infringed six of Apple's patents for mobile devices and awarded Apple $1 billion in damages - making the case one of the most expensive patent lawsuits ever.

The case may have wide-ranging implications for the very competitive smartphone market, especially non-iPhone platforms like Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone. Some analysts expect that the Windows Phone operating system will grow in popularity precisely because of its dissimilarity to Apple's iOS - and that Samsung, which already makes phones that operate on the Windows Phone platform, may choose to focus more on its Windows Phone offerings in the near future. Others fear that the lawsuit will lead to fewer smartphone options for consumers.

Lodsys Update

From time to time, we like to check in on the Lodsys lawsuit - which, if you'll recall, was one of the most high-profile patent infringement suits filed in 2011. So what's new with Lodsys and the dozens of app developers and big tech companies it sued? Looks like they're still duking it out - and some defendants are using the anti-joinder provision in the America Invents Act (AIA) to try to extract themselves from the lawsuit.

The AIA made it much more difficult for one company to sue a gaggle of infringers all at once, unless the individual acts of infringement were part of the same transaction. And the anti-joinder provision was one of the sections of the AIA that took effect upon its passage in September 2011. Thus, in the weeks leading up to the bill becoming law, a flurry of multi-defendant patent lawsuits were filed.

Disproving Prior Art Enablement Becomes Patent Applicant's Responsibility

If your patent is in reexamination, be forewarned: It's up to you to prove that any relevant prior art isn't enabling or anticipatory of your patent claims.

Antor Media Corp. owns a patent (the ’961 patent) relating “to a method and apparatus for transmitting information recorded on digital disks from a central server to subscribers via a high data rate telecommunications network.” Antor sued several companies for patent infringement, resulting in a number of ex parte reexamination requests that were merged into a single reexamination.

Soothing the Sting of Samsung's Win

Last week we reported on the courtroom verdict equivalent of a backhanded compliment (see "Adding Insult to Victory"), when Judge Colin Birss ruled in London court that Samsung's Galaxy tablet PCs do not infringe Apple's iPad design - because they are just not as understated and "cool" as the iPad.

Now Judge Birss appears to be trying to restore the damage caused by Samsung's mixed victory: He has ordered Apple to place a notice on its UK website for six months and also run ads in several major British newspapers and magazines stating that Samsung did not copy Apple's registered iPad designs.

Apple was upset enough at losing the lawsuit, but is positively incensed at having to effectively publish ads for Samsung.

“No company likes to refer to a rival on its website," one of Apple's attorneys complained to the court.

Adding Insult to Victory

Samsung won a patent infringement lawsuit this week in a UK court. However, the verdict was (basically) noninfringement due to a lack of coolness. Ouch!

Apple had sued Samsung in the UK, claiming that the Galaxy tablet PCs infringed the iPad's design. Judge Colin Birss ruled against Apple, because he found that Samsung's tablets "do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool."

Despite the Pyrrhic appearance of this victory, it's still a win for Samsung - especially if the Korean company can convince would-be Apple users that it's hip to be square.

Of Trademarks and Really Expensive Bowling Shoes

Gucci won a trademark infringement lawsuit against Guess? Inc., but the payout was much smaller than Gucci anticipated. Gucci America, Inc v. Guess?, Inc.
(SDNY 2012)

The basis of the suit: Gucci accused Guess of infringing five of its trademarks as embodied in some of the ugliest shoes ever to walk the earth. (You can view them here...if you dare.)

Both Gucci's shoes and Guess's knockoffs are reminiscent of Gucci's famous purses, where this writer opines that the design is used much more successfully. Gucci claimed that five trademarked design elements were infringed and/or diluted: The green-red-green stripe; a repeating "GG" pattern with intertwined G's; the use of a diamond pattern with the "GG" design; a stylized G; and a script mark with the brand name. The Guess? shoes incorporated a version of all five trademarks, and Gucci anticipated $120 million in damages.