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Ameranth, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Apple, Inc. earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California alleging that Apple’s new Passbook product infringes on Ameranth’s patented technology.

According to the complaint, Ameranth develops products to generate and synchronize menus and hospitality information across fixed, wireless, and web platforms. It claims to have been nominated by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, for the 2001 Computerworld Honors Award, which it won. The complaint further alleges that Gates described the company as “one of the leading pioneers of information technology for the betterment of mankind.”

Judging from the complaint, this suit seems unlike a typical “patent troll” suits, in which a small company that owns but often does not itself develop innovations sues a major technology company for infringement of obscure patents. These types of suits are commonly seen as using the patent system to hinder, rather than promote, innovation and creativity. In contrast, Ameranth seems to develop its own technologies and innovations, which could suggest the company’s lawsuit is driven by more than a desire for profit.

Kohanowski v. Burkhardt, North Dakota Supreme Court (9/25/12)
Contracts

The future brother-in-law of Jessica Burkhardt tried to sue her on quasi-contract principles for a loan he gave his brother. The money was supposed to be used to help Burkhardt and Kohanowski buy a house together; the brother-in-law says Burkhardt was in the room on the other end of the phone when his brother accepted the terms of the loan. The engagement broke off, and while the brother reaffirmed the debt, the brother-in-law wanted to ensure his ex-potential-sister-in-law paid her share. The lower courts ruled in favor of the in-law, but the Supreme Court reversed, holding the “contract” was subject to the statute of frauds, which was not met here.

Akers v. Prime Succession of Tenn., Inc., Tennessee Supreme Court (9/21/12)
Consumer Law, Injury Law

Defendant, a crematory operator, hid hundreds of uncremated bodies on his property rather than perform cremations he was paid to do. When Plaintiffs, who had received what they thought to be their deceased son’s cremains from Defendant’s crematory, learned about the problems at the crematory, they discovered the body of their son was mishandled and not properly cremated. Plaintiffs sued Defendant for the alleged mishandling of their deceased son’s body. Following a jury verdict for Plaintiffs, the trial court entered judgment against Defendant based on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim but granted his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on Plaintiffs’ Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and bailment claims. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in (1) holding Defendant liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress in the amount of the jury verdict; (2) instructing the jury that they were permitted to draw a negative inference resulting from Defendant’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege during questioning; and (3) dismissing the TCPA and bailment claims.

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Tennessee Supreme Court Affirms Judgment Against Tri-State Crematory Operator Continue reading →

Last week, my colleague Ilana Bergstrom and I attended a session called “Law School for Digital Journalists” at a conference hosted by the Online News Association. Although both of us went to law school, the session seemed like an opportunity to learn about the unique issues that online journalists face. Indeed, the session promised “classes [on] the full range of legal issues that impact the professional lives of digital journalists: copyright, newsroom law, international media law, access and FOIA, and the legal issues involved in launching and running a digital news operation.” The instructors were experts on digital media law, presented in conjunction with the UNC Center for Media Law & Policy, the Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Both of us found the speakers dynamic, the discussions interesting, and the material familiar yet refreshing. From First Amendment rights to U.K. copyright law to journalism/news business law, the topics covered reiterated the need for an ongoing dialogue between professionals in different fields. As a contributor to Justia’s Verdict and Onward Blog and with aspirations of writing more, I found the level of engagement to be stimulating, combining two of my own passions: writing and the law. Ilana writes for Justia’s Onward Blog and expressed similar satisfaction with the session’s treatment of the union of law and journalism.

As a side note, but of no less importance, we both thoroughly enjoyed the lunch presentation by Pulitzer Prize-winning political animator Mark Fiore. His presentation combined humor, politics, and a no-holds-barred commentary on some oft-overlooked aspects of our society.

Last Tuesday, The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) upheld a decision to deny Apple’s trademark application to register its music feature mark that’s used on iPhones and other Apple products.  The reason?  The mark was confusingly similar to another mark that’s now owned by MySpace.  Both marks consist of two musical eighth notes on an orange background.  MySpace’s mark was originally issued to iLike, a music service that let users download and share music with each other.  However, MySpace bought iLike in 2009, and closed it down a few years later. Continue reading →

Wellons v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, US 11th Cir. (9/19/12)

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Petitioner, a death row inmate, appealed the district court’s denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner contended that he was denied a fair trial by an impartial judge and unbiased jury because the jury gave the judge and the bailiff inappropriate gag gifts at the conclusion of the trial. Petitioner also contended that there was racial discrimination in the selection of the jury. The court held that it was not unreasonable for the Georgia Supreme Court to find that petitioner did not prove purposeful discrimination by the state in the selection of the jury. The court also held, without condoning the regrettable behavior of either, that both the jury and the judge remained impartial and unbiased throughout the trial. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief.

In a Solomonic ruling, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez recently denied a defendants’ sweeping Notice to Admit social media account postings by a personal injury plaintiff in Carr v. Bovis Lend Lease (read the decision below). In New York, unless a party objects to another’s pre-trial Notice to Admit, they run the risk of admitting something they don’t disagree with, potentially helping another litigant through inaction. In Carr, the defendants’ Notice to Admit sought to have plaintiff admit to making Facebook, Twitter, and other social media postings online, even though plaintiff only acknowledged having a Facebook account.

Here, Justice Mendez gave each party a little victory, and perhaps a setback too.
Continue reading →

Facebook and Apple have been hit with another patent infringement lawsuit brought by small, relatively obscure research/technology companies. Yesterday, PersonalWeb Technologies and Level 3 Communications filed a suit against both technology companies in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The two plaintiff companies allegedly each own an undivided 50 percent interest in the patents at issue.

In the case against Facebook, the patents at issue are:

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,978,791: “Data processing system using substantially unique identifiers to identify data items, whereby identical data items have the same identifiers”

Yesterday, the Regents of the University of California and Eolas Technologies, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Facebook in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The suit alleges that Facebook has infringed on four different patents owned by the Regents and to which Eolas has an exclusive license.

Eolas was founded by Dr. Michael D. Doyle, who, according to the company website, previously served as Director for the Center of Knowledge Management at the University of California – San Francisco. During his tenure there, Dr. Doyle reportedly led a team of researchers to develop technology that led to the 5,838,906 patent (“’906 Patent”) entitled “Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document.” According to the Eolas Technologies website, the patent “enabled Web browsers for the first time to act as platforms for fully-interactive embedded applications.”

The ’906 Patent has been the subject of prior litigation. In 2007, Eolas and the Regents of the University of California were awarded a $565 judgment against Microsoft. The award was stayed on appeal, and the parties subsequently settled for a confidential amount. Continue reading →