Archive for June, 2012

Copyright: Apps and APIs

It is a fundamental feature of copyright law that it protects only original expression, not ideas. Applied to software, the law of copyright tells us that certain elements of a computer program are not protectable by copyright. For example, purely functional elements such as the structure of a library, or database, or elements dictated by the operating system, can fall outside the scope of copyright protection, since those elements lack the originality necessary for copyright.

In Tetris Holding LLC v. Xio Interactive, Inc., an app developer was found to have infringed copyright in the famous Tetris game.  The puzzle game Mino was, by the defendant’s own admission, inspired by Tetris. However, the defendant maintained that it only copied unprotected elements, a conclusion that the developer reached after researching copyright law. The court did not agree. After an exhaustive review of the idea-expression dichotomy (40-pages worth of anaylsis, if you want to read more), the court decided that Mino did infringe the protectable “look and feel” of Tetris. According to this case, you shouldn’t assume that expression is unprotectible merely because it is related to a game rule or game function.

UPDATE: In the Oracle v Google case (see our earlier coverage here), the judge decided that APIs in this case were not eligible for copyright protection. This amounts to a complete loss for Oracle in its suit against Google for infringement of the Java APIs used in Google’s Android software. This case is expected to go up to appeal.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Canadian Copyright Update

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The House of Commons has now passed Bill C-11, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act, with only minor amendments at the committee stage. The Bill has been sent up to the Senate where it has passed First Reading. Second Reading could commence as soon as today.

After years of ponderous debate, this quick pace suggests the Bill will progress through the Senate efficiently. However, the Senate rises for the summer at the end of June, leaving little more than a week to push the legislation through. If the Bill does not become law by the end of June, then it will be pushed into the fall calendar. The Senate returns from the summer recess on September 17th … (wish we were all so lucky).

Stay tuned.

Calgary – 2:00 MDT

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Arbitration Clauses in License Agreements (Part 1)

This 2010 case is a good reminder that courts will give effect to arbitration clauses if that’s what the parties have chosen in their license agreements.

  • In PRM Energy Sys., Inc. v. Primenergy, LLC, 592 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2010) , the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit decided to uphold an arbitration clause in a patent license agreement, which was drafted to cover “all disputes arising under” the agreement. A complex series of agreements and disputes led PRM to sue Kobe Steel, a non-party or “non-signatory” to the original license agreement that contained the arbitration clause. However, Kobe Steel convined the court that the arbitration clause should be enforced. The court decided that PRM’s claims were so intertwined with patent license that contained the arbitration clause that it would be unfair to allow PRM to rely on the license agreement in making its claims, but to avoid the arbitration clause of that same agreement.

In Canada, courts have also shown that they are prepared to uphold arbitration clauses. Consider this case:

  • The case of University of Toronto v. John N. Harbinson Ltd. 2005 CanLII 47089 (ON SC), dealt with a broad arbitration clause that said: “Any dispute, controversy or claim arising from this Agreement or its breach, termination or alleged invalidity shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Arbitrations Act of Ontario, as amended.” In this case, the court decided that the arbitration clause should be upheld, particularly since no Patent Act claims or remedies were being sought.

Related reading: See Did You Say Arbitration in Kazakhstan?, reviewing a case where arbitration was triggered by one of the parties, and the Alberta Court decided that the breach of contract questions fell within the scope of the arbitration under the law of Kazakhstan.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Class Action Lawsuits? There’s an app for that.

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A California court has approved a nationwide class action lawsuit against Apple, based on claims that the device has tracked user location and movements without their consent. This is the same claim that was dismissed once, with leave to amend (see App Law: Update on Privacy). The plaintiffs amended and came back for round two. In a partial win for Apple, the privacy claims were dismissed. However, the remainder of the claims have been permitted to proceed. Apple’s defence is that its terms of service and user agreements will provide cover. The court has indicated that there is some ambiguity about whether the terms cover the scope of information that was collected.

For Apple’s lawyers, this is not a new phenomenon. These lawsuits are also in the works:

However, the user-tracking lawsuit looks like the most interesting of the bunch, and may put Apple’s app store terms and conditions to the test.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Reveal Day for New Top-Level-Domains

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ICANN has revealed the applicants for new generic top-level-domains (gTLDs). (See our earlier post: Let a Thousand .Flowers Bloom? Update on New gTLDs ) This is the list of companies and organizations that want to run their own domain registry, though the new domains have not yet been approved by ICANN. Some points to note:

  • Many of the applicants will walk away empty-handed. For example, there are 12 applications for the .APP domain, and only one one of them will be awarded the right to establish that domain.
  • A number of global trade-mark owners have staked their claim in this new space – for example, the owners of the APPLE, AUDI, FORD and AMERICAN EXPRESS brands have each applied to establish these brands as gTLDs.
  • Yes, someone has applied to establish .FLOWERS, as predicted in our earlier post… there are four applications for this domain.
  • Some brand owners have elected to go with generic applications – for example, both Safeway and Walmart applied for .GROCERY
  • Internationalized domains are part of the list, including 삼성 (That’s SAMSUNG in Korean).
  • Google appears to be among the most enthusiastic applicants. They established a separate company – Charleston Road Registry Inc. – to apply for more than 100 top-level-domains.

ICANN is pitching this as “The day it all becomes clear”, but the process is far from it. An “objection period” for new gTLDs now begins and ICANN states that this period “is intended to remain open for approximately seven months”. Not exactly clear. The proposed “Trademark Clearinghouse” is also not yet established, though this will be critical for brand owners to manage rights protection issues when the new registries are launched. Stay tuned.