STLR Link Roundup – February 20, 2013

Bowman v. Monsanto: A Patent That Just Keeps On Growing

On Tuesday February 19, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bowman v. Monsanto concerning patent rights of self-replicating technology.

Monsanto created and patented a genetically altered soybean resistant to the herbicide Roundup, coined Roundup Ready.  Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana farmer, obtained second-generation Roundup Ready seeds lawfully, planted the seeds, and then saved the seeds from his grown soybean plants for subsequent planting.  Bowman then replanted the next-generation seeds without paying Monsanto a fee for eight consecutive seasons.  Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infringement.

Bowman relies on a theory of patent exhaustion, arguing that Monsanto’s patent rights to the seed are extinguished after the initial authorized sale.  The Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that each replicated seed is a “newly infringing article” and thus patent rights extend beyond the first generation.  Bowman subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.

As for Chief Justice Robert’s thoughts:  “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”


No IPhones in Brazil?

On February 13, Brazil’s National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) denied Apple’s request to trademark the iPhone name for use in mobile phones in Brazil.  The INPI ruled that the iPhone name is already registered by Brazilian company Gradiente.

The INPI granted the trademark iPhone to Gradiente in January 2008.  Under Brazilian law, however, a company has five years to make use of a registered trademark or the exclusive right expires.  On the eve of the trademark expiring in December 2012, Gradiente launched the “Gradiente iphone.”  Apple questions Gradiente’s motives and argues the trademark was registered in “bad faith” and should be canceled for non-use.  As a result, Apple has immediately filed a petition challenging the INPI’s recent decision.


EU’s $1 Billion Threat to Google

European Union lawmakers and regulators are in the process of overhauling the EU’s data protection rules.  Under current rules, companies that violate EU data privacy laws are subject to fines by individual countries of 300,000 – 600,000 euros.  The new rules, which could go into affect next year, would allow a single regulator to fine companies on behalf of the entire EU up to two percent of global revenues.

Viviane Reding, the EU’s commissioner for justice, told Reuters, “The test case (Google) is a clear one.” European Union regulators believe Google’s current privacy policy infringes users’ privacy.  In particular, they disprove of Google’s pooling together of personal information from all its services – Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Android.

Google’s revenues last year were $50 billion, and thus a fine as high as $1 billion is possible.


A Great Mystery:  Who Owns Sherlock Holmes?

Everyone knows the story of Sherlock Holmes and soon enough we may all own him as well.

Leslie S. Klinger, an author and leading Holmes scholar, filed a civil complaint on Thursday, February 14, 2013, in Illinois federal court over the ownership of Sherlock Holmes.  Klinger argues that since the original Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle were published before January 1, 1923, U.S. copyright law no longer covers the materials.  As a result, licensing fees paid to Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate are unnecessary.  Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Baker Street should belong to the public domain.


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