New steak gets patent world salivating

You’ve probably heard about the new cut of red meat called Vegas Strip Steak™. Thus far it’s only available at a limited number of high-end restaurants.

And while the meat itself can be considered common — it comes from the area of the cow that produces beef for burgers — the three entrepreneurs behind the Vegas Strip claim the cut is, according to Slate.com, “so earth-shatteringly original that they will be filing a patent for their knife strokes.”

Of course, the cow itself can’t be patented — unless it’s “genetically engineered for science” — but the technique for getting the cut from it can:

“According to law professor Chris Buccafusco of the Illinois Institute of Technology, butchers could make the argument that they innovate much like genetics researchers, who earn patents for the ways they isolate genes.”

And, it turns out, the archives at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office house dozens of meat-production processes.

The article can be found here. If it doesn’t pique your interest in terms of learning more about food patent law, at the very least it’s a nice pre-lunch read.

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Detroit patent office location announced, set for July opening

Attention, Michigan patent attorneys: Put the Detroit address of 300 River Place Drive into your database immediately.

That’s where the Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office will be located, the USPTO announced Wednesday.

Scheduled for a July 2012 opening, the 31,000-square-foot office — the USPTO’s first-ever satellite branch — will be housed in the former home to Parke-Davis Laboratories and the Stroh’s Brewery Headquarters, just east of downtown Detroit. More than 100 jobs are expected to be created for the office’s first year.

Bob Stoll, the USPTO’s commissioner for patents, mentioned in a conference last year that the distribution of work at the satellite offices would be based on expertise in specific areas, such as mechanical engineering and materials science, to tie in with Michigan’s automotive and life science industries.

The office is the result of last year’s Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which calls for the USPTO to launch at least two other satellite examination offices besides Detroit within three years.

The USPTO has called for public comments regarding these additional satellite offices. They can be submitted by Jan. 30 at satelliteoffices@uspto.gov.

Pirated CD police, BitTorrent blitz, and grooming young gamblers

If you buy questionable CDs, saw Sylvester Stallone’s recent action flick via illegal means, or have ever dropped too much tokens on skee-ball (or allowed your kids to), you might relate to some recent national legal activity.

First, Wired reported about California legislation already passed by two state Senate committees to allow law enforcement to enter optical-disc plants and seize disc-stamping equipment, and pirated movie and music discs without a court warrant.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are supporting the constitutionally suspect measure, which also allows fines of up to $250,000. The legislation, which is up for a vote in another Senate committee next week, comes as the federal government is also cracking down on pirated goods.

But in this day of independent record and video stores becoming as rare as The Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” LP with the banned baby doll cover, you need not go to the brick-and-mortar store to find pirated goods. They’re all accessible on your computer via BitTorrents, and usually free.

Well, at least 23,000 people may be paying for what they accessed.

That’s because Wired also reported that a federal judge has agreed to allow the U.S. Copyright Group to subpoena Internet service providers — including Comcast and Road Runner — to find out the identity of everybody who illegally downloaded the 2010 Stallone romp “The Expendables.”

And it’s not an isolated incident. According to the report:

[M]ore than 140,000 BitTorrent downloaders are being targeted in dozens of lawsuits across the country … . [M]any lawyers are mimicking the Copyright Group’s legal strategy, which includes offering online settlement payments, in hopes of making quick cash. The litigation can be so lucrative — with settlements around $3,000 per infringement — that two companies are both claiming ownership to a low-budget movie called “Nude Nuns with Big Guns,” and both firms are suing the same downloaders.

Not all federal judges, are agreeing to allow a massive number of subpoenas in a single case, but many are. The U.S. Copyright Act allows damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, and the cases all demand the maximum.

Finally, a San Diego mother is suing Chuck E. Cheese’s for $5 million. She claims that kids who go to there are at risk of developing serious gambling habits in their quest to win tickets redeemable for dollar-store trinkets prizes.

Plaintiff’s attorney Eric Binink told the San Diego Union Tribune that the lawsuit’s real purpose is to prevent the company from keeping the machines in its game rooms.

“We don’t think that children should be exposed to casino-style gambling devices at an arcade,” Benink said, adding that the games take only a few seconds to play and some of them feature a roulette-style wheel.

The plaintiff also contends that the games are based on chance rather than skill, but at least one defender of Mr. Cheese, Scott Bullock at The Escapist, says any claim that a game like skee-ball doesn’t require skill is “clearly absurd.”

That being said, Bullock noted, as someone who was lured into the mouse’s lair as a kid:

I seem to recall spending a lot of time at the flashy-light roulette wheel, pumping in tokens and muttering, “C’mon … daddy needs a new alien pencil-topper!”

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Michigan patent office nixed for now as result of budget cuts

Looks like Michigan will have to wait a while longer to be a part of patent law history.

And it looks like patent law attorneys will have to keep waiting, period.

On Thursday, David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), announced that congressional budget cuts have forced the agency to table plans for a Detroit satellite office, along with considerations of any other satellite offices.

“In view of the funding cuts reflected in the final budget and affecting the U.S. government as a whole,” he said in a memo to USPTO employees, “we will be unable to expend the additional $85-$100 million in fees that we will be collecting during this fiscal year — funds that we had anticipated being able to use to fund operations this year.”

Postponing the opening of the Detroit office — which was scheduled for August and would have had 100 examiners — puts a damper on a positive thing happening for Michigan and the Midwest tech hub, said Charles A. Bieneman of Rader, Fishman & Grauer PLLC.

But the real hardship, he said, was Kappos’ announcement that, as part of the budget cuts, existing patent examiners won’t be paid overtime, and that there would be a hiring freeze.

“What that means,” he said, “is that fewer applications are going to be examined, the backlog [of 700,000-plus filed patent applications] is going to continue to grow, and the general slowness in resolving patent applications is going to continue and increase.”

Bieneman noted that there have been hiring freezes before — when he was a patent examiner, he got in just before such a freeze — and they come and go.

But he added that he speculates whether Kappos is trying to call someone’s bluff with his Thursday announcement.

“The whole issue of the PTO’s budget has always been a political hot potato,” Bieneman said, “because they’re a fee-funded agency, meaning that they’ve historically generated more revenue than they’ve budgeted to expend, because Congress has practiced what’s called ‘fee diversion.’”

How so?

“They basically skim some fees off the top,” he said, “and in the patent bar, it ticks people off, because we’re paying all this money to have our patent applications examined, and then it’s not even going to fund that. … The $100 million taken out of the PTO’s budget, it’s not like it’s tax revenue allocated to the PTO. Those are fee revenues — money the PTO has generated that Congress has taken away.

“It’s like if you’re a business and you want to pour your money into research and development, and they’re saying, ‘No, sorry, you’ve got to give that money to some other business.’”

That’s been business as usual, said Anna M. Budde of Harness, Dickey & Pierce, PLC in Troy. She noted that, according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association, since 1990, more than $800 million in USPTO user fees have been withheld from the agency — “dollars that could otherwise be spent on improving patent and trademark examination and reducing patent pendency.”

The USPTO had been making efforts over the last few years via pilot programs to tackle the backlog, such as:

• Allowing applicants to accelerate the examination of applications pertaining to green technologies;

• Having patent offices in select countries use findings for a patent application from another country’s patent office to speed the process; and

• Having inventors abandon one application in exchange for another application being advanced out of turn.

The USPTO’s Three-Track System, which would have let applicants have their applications processed as “prioritized examination” for a $4,000 fee, was to have started on May 4. In Kappos’ announcement, he said that that, too, has been postponed.

Naturally, this isn’t the kind of news patent law attorneys would have wanted to hear as they head into Easter weekend.

(If you would like to comment on this story, contact Douglas J. Levy at (248) 865-3107 or email douglas.levy@mi.lawyersweekly.com.)

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The most expensive chocolate milk you can’t even drink

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Hershey wants a judge to let it keep on making virtual chocolate milk.

How now?

The Pennsylvania chocolate maker filed a complaint earlier this summer asking a federal judge to decide whether an application it created for the iPhone and similar devices violates a copyright held by Las Vegas-based software developer Hottrix LLC.

The two companies are battling over respective iPhone apps that both involve making virtual chocolate milk.

Hottrix filed a counterclaim Sept. 13, saying Hershey had improperly used its intellectual property, costing it more than $12 million in lost profits and damage to its brand. It said the Hershey app “dilutes the market and serves to destroy the distinctiveness of Hottrix’ copyrighted works.”

Company lawyer Jason H. Fisher said Hottrix’s $3 iMilk app came first and includes plain milk and strawberry milk. Hottrix’s court filing said Hershey’s free app has been downloaded more than 4 million times.

Fisher said Hottrix previously settled a similar dispute with Coors over a beer-related app on confidential terms.

Hershey’s legal filing says the app it launched in October is much different, including its use of a red and white straw to “drain” milk from the phone screen.

“Unlike the Hottrix application, the Hershey’s Chocolate Milk iPhone application ‘milk’ cannot be ‘drunk’ from the iPhone by tipping the phone (which is the only mechanism for drinking the milk in the Hottrix application), but can only be ‘drunk’ by use of the virtual straw,” according to the lawsuit, filed June 2 in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg.

Hershey spokesman Kirk D. Saville declined comment.

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Former Ford worker indicted

“A former Ford Motor Co. engineer has been indicted on federal charges of stealing company secrets and trying to sell them in China,” reports The Oakland Press.

“Xiang Dong, aka Mike Yu, 47, of Beijing, China, was charged in a five-count indictment with theft of trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets and unauthorized access to a protected computer, according to Terrence Berg, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who on Thursday announced the charges, which followed an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Eight Mile Style, Apple, stay silent about download suit settlement

Eight Mile Style, LLC, the music publisher of hip-hop megastar Eminem and computer giant Apple Inc. have reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by Eight Mile, reports The Detroit Free Press.

“Howard Hertz, attorney for Eight Mile Style LLC, told The Free Press that … he could not release details of the settlement as part of the agreement, but he said it was reached with the ‘mutual satisfaction of both sides.’

“Eight Mile Style had claimed that Apple earned $2.58 million from unauthorized downloads of Eminem songs.”

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