Reminder about new EPO divisional applications

On 1 April 2014, a new rule came into force at the EPO. The rule relates to divisional patent applications and applies to applications filed on or after that date. The new rule effectively repeals the unpopular (and largely ineffective) previous 24-month time limits for the filing of divisional applications.

The new rule allows the filing of divisional patent applications as long as the earlier (parent) application is pending. However, as with the previous rule, this rule comes with a disincentive: there is an additional fee payable for with the application fees. The amount of the additional fee grows progressively with each subsequent generation of divisional applications. The official fee starts at €210 and when it reaches €840 for a fifth divisional patent application it becomes a flat fee for subsequent divisional application. The generation of the new divisional is governed by which application (divisional or parent) is the basis for the new divisional patent application.

Innovation Matters – from idea, through R&D and partners to exports and growth

One of our Directors, Ross Kay, will be speaking at the Innovation Matters seminar on 30 April, 2014 at the University of Hertfordshire Biopark in Welwyn Garden City. This event is being organised by Enterprise Europe Network East  along with Exemplas, the Design Council and UK Trade and Investment. Ross will be speaking about intellectual property and providing a grounding for those who are new to it, or want to fill in gaps in their knowledge. More details and an on-line booking form can be found on the Enterprise Europe Network East website.

 

 

US Supreme Court to hear oral arguments next week

On 31 March 2014, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International. The case, referred to by some as Alice in Patentland, is to decide (hopefully once and for all, but we shall see …) the issue of whether claims in patents to computer-implemented inventions are eligible for patent protection under US law. As part of their ruling, the Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether claims to systems and machines, processes, and items of manufacture involving computer-implemented inventions are protectable by patents. We will keep you posted …

Will the Coca-Cola secret recipe stay secret for much longer?

For some, one of the allures of the Coca-Cola® drink is that the recipe for the beverage is secret. Recently, Coca-cola has bought a 10% stake in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Some years ago, Green Mountain/Keurig developed and sold a single-serve K-cup brewing technology, which like the Nespresso system uses pods to allow customers to prepare single coffee servings without having to make an entire pot. The technology was patented, but the patent expired late in 2012.

However, now with the help of Coca-Cola, Green Mountain is now working on developing and launching the Coca-Cola soft drink portfolio for use in a new cold beverage systems, which should be on sale in early 2015. So how long will the recipe stay secret? Already a small raft of patent applications have been filed on the subject of making carbonated drinks. While it might at first seem like home-brewed Coca-Cola drinks spell the end of the recipe being kept secret, it’s really no different to buying a bottle of the drink and taking it home. 

However, Green Mountain’s strong patent position may have been one of the contributing factor’s to Coca-Cola’s investment in the company and, no doubt, the “content” provided by Coca-Cola will contribute to the success of the technology. The one-shot technology, like with coffee, adds a certain caché to the experience, which is no doubt more in keeping with how Coca-Cola would like their product to be perceived.

Some interesting facts about Coca-Cola’s early days …

  • The drink was created in 1886 by John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist.
  • The drink was named “Coca-Cola” by Mr Pemberton’s bookkeeper.
  • Atlanta businessman Asa Griggs Candler secured rights to the business between 1888 and 1889.
  • The recipe once used coca leaf, but now uses a cocaine-free coca leaf extract prepared at a Stepan Company plant.
  • The Stepan Company plant is the only manufacturing plant authorised by the US Federal Government to import and process the coca plant.

More information about the company can be found on Coca-Cola’s website.

According to Interbrand, he Coca-Cola brand is the world’s third most valuable brand after Apple® and Google®, valued at $79.2 billion.

A short-lived victory for Apple?

Is Apple’s recent victory in a Munich court a hollow victory?

A great deal of attention has been given in the tech/legal media to the Apple patent known as the “slide to unlock” patent. It was recently litigated in Germany.

Those familiar with Apple products will know that it is possible to lock some iPods and iPhones to prevent unauthorised use. To unlock the device, a user has to slide a so-called “slider” across a portion of the device’s screen. This is sometimes accompanied by a request to enter a pin code.

Apple claimed that the patent was infringed by an unlock feature used by two of Motorola Mobility’s (MM’s) smartphone products that run Google’s android operating system. The mention of Google’s operating system is bit of a red herring, because the exact implementation of the unlock feature is a manufacturer matter as opposed to something mandated by Google’s Android operating system. Google is, though, in the process of acquiring MM, which does make things interesting.

A court in Munich has now announced a decision in Apple’s favour, but this does not extend to MM’s Xoom product. However, in a recent statement, a spokesperson for Motorola Mobility stated that this decision will not affect current supply or future sales. Nevertheless, we understand that MM has decided to change the unlocking feature.

It’s not clear whether MM will nevertheless appeal the decision, but what is clear and almost completely ignored by most of the media is that this is not the whole story. In Germany, patent validity is handled by a different court to patent infringement. You therefore have a two-track system. This means that although one court may find a patent is infringed, the other court may find the patent invalid in which case the fact that the patent is infringed is all very interesting, but doesn’t really get you anywhere because you never had any valid patent rights in the first place.

Typically, a court handling the infringement case refrains from making a decision before there has been a pronouncement on the validity of the patent in question. This was also the case for the Apple patent. However, it seems that Apple managed to persuade the court that MM’s attack on the validity of their patent was unlikely to succeed.

Whether this is how things will play out in the court is an entirely different matter. All we will say is that one poster on a news website recently observed that the front gate outside his house had a slide to unlock feature! The matter of validity may therefore not yet be in the bag for Apple. Indeed, a Dutch court has, in the past, declared invalid a corresponding Dutch patent for the same invention.

As the song, album title and saying goes: it ain’t over ’til it’s over!

UK IPO Decides Against Appeal to House of Lords

No Attempt by UK IPO to Reverse Symbian Appeal Judgement

Following a relatively recent decision of the Court of Appeal of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) has decided not to appeal the decision to the House of Lords (the highest appellate court in the UK).

A review of Computer Implemented Inventions (CIIs) has been requested by the President of the European Patent Office (EPO) by a referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO due to a perceived divergence in case law of the EPO Boards of Appeal. The UK IPO, like the Court of Appeal, feels that it would be premature for the House of Lords to consider this matter before the EPO sinks its teeth into it (if it decides to do so). This means that, for the moment, the Court of Appeal judgement stands and certain types of software-based inventions implemented on a general-purpose computer, amongst other types of hardware, can be patented in the right circumstances.

iTunes patent suit settled

Apple has reached a pre-trial settlement on undisclosed terms

Apple has reached a settlement with a Vermont firm that claimed that Apple’s iTunes music software infringes their patent.

Court documents show that the patent owner, Mr David Contois, sued Apple in the U.S. District Court of Vermont in June 2005, accusing the company of infringing U.S. Patent No. 5, 864, 868 filed in February 1996 and relating to a computer system and method for controlling a media playing device.

According to this original court complaint, Mr Contois believed current or future Apple employees were in attendance when he first demonstrated his invention at a technology trade show in November 1996.

The case settled on 21 August 1996 only after a number of pre-trial hearings.

Nanogen expands patent portfolio

US Patent granted for nanofabrication applications

US Patent No. 7, 060, 224 relates to nanofabrication and nanomanufacturing applications of Nanogen Inc.’s microarray technology employed in a product for molecular diagnostic applications. In particular, the patent relates to manipulation and positioning of nanoscale components to build structures.

Nanogen Chairman and CEO, Howard C. Birndorf, said:

“The ‘224 patent demonstrates the underlying strength and robustness of our basic electronic microarray technology and our commitment to continuing fundamental R&D to protect our strong IP position in the nascent and growing field of nanotechnology.”

Co-founder, Professor Michael J. Heller is reported to have said:

“It’s currently relatively easy to make various types of nanoparticles, but it’s hard to put different kinds of nanoparticles and other nanocomponents together.”

“And it’s even harder to combine nanoparticles with components of other size scales, like you would need to do in order to build an integrated sensor device, for example, that could circulate within the body, detecting disease and releasing medication as appropriate. The non-mechanical ‘pick and place’ allows for this type of integrated assembly.”

“Fabricating complex integrated devices right now usually requires that each component be built separately and then assembled. Interfaces that integrate function across the various components can be difficult to achieve.”

“Using the non-mechanical ‘pick and place’ technology described in the ‘224 patent facilitates integrated assembly of these complex structures.”

In addition to the manufacture of Nanogen electronic microarray technology, the technique of the granted patent can be applied to other areas of technology, particularly photovoltaic devices, fuel cells and batteries, but also other technologies: flat panel displays, wireless integrated devices, microcantilever sensor devices, atomic force microscope devices, integrated MEMS devices, integrated microscopic analytical and diagnostic devices, and compact, handheld medical diagnostic devices and systems.

SanDisk MP3 licence dispute

BBC – Electronics manufacturer SanDisk is facing a legal fight over its use of popular MP3 compression technology.

German officials seized MP3 players from SanDisk’s booth at the IFA show in Berlin after an Italian patents firm won an injunction against the company.

Italian patents company Sisvel alleges that SanDisk refuses to pay licensing fees it needs to playback MP3 files.

SanDisk also faces a lawsuit brought by Sisvel in a German court, but denies that its products infringe patents.

SanDisk has recently launched new MP3 players based on flash memory, with capacities of up to 8GB, in an attempt to challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPod nano.

But a raft of new products were removed from the company’s stand at the IFA show in Berlin after Sisvel applied for an injunction, Sisvel told the BBC News website.

‘No progress’

According to Giustino de Sanctis, head of Sisvel’s US-based subsidiary Audio MPEG, SanDisk’s refusal to purchase an MP3 licence leaves them out of step with some 600 other manufacturers and software developers. “By definition you have to follow the standard,” Mr de Sanctis said.

Mr de Sanctis said the fact that SanDisk players were able to play MP3 files meant the company was legally required to purchase a licence.

“It is just not possible to do it any other way,” he said.

Mr de Sanctis said the Berlin criminal court issued an injunction against SanDisk and officials visited the company’s booth at the IFA show to seize and remove MP3 players.

“We are not getting anywhere with them,” Mr de Sanctis said, explaining the decision to apply for an injunction.

“We have 600 licensees and we have to protect their rights, and the rights of the patent holders,” he added.

Sisvel’s founder Roberto Dini told the website DigitalLifestyles.info that SanDisk could gain an unfair edge over competitors and could potentially offer trade customers at the high-profile German show a lower price for its MP3 players.

“This is unfair competition,” Mr Dini told DigitalLifestyles.info.

Complex compression

SanDisk, which is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flash memory products, acknowledged that it was facing a legal challenge over its MP3 players.

However, the company would not comment on Sisvel’s claim to have won an injunction in Berlin.

In a statement, SanDisk confirmed it is facing legal action in a court in Mannheim, Germany – a separate action also brought by Sisvel – but defended its audio technology.

“SanDisk is showing that its MP3 players operate a technology which is completely different from a certain audio data transmission and reception techniques that has been patented for Philips and others many years ago.”

“An expert opinion from one of the founders of MP3 digital audio compression substantiates SanDisk’s position. SanDisk is not infringing any patent in the pending litigation.”

The MP3 compression algorithm emerged in the 1990s following development efforts by two sets of technology companies and institutes.

Sisvel and its US subsidiary Audio MPEG issues MP3 licences on behalf of Dutch firm Philips, a French firm and a German research institute.

Another firm, Thomson, issues licences on behalf of a second group of developers.