BMW Faces Patent Lawsuit Over In-car Hotspots

Cross-posted on the ABA-IPL's Law Student Action Group blog.

BMW's removable "Car Hotspot LTE" system is controlled from the center console and can support up to 8 devices.On Wednesday, Antennatech, LLC filed a five-page complaint against BMW of North America LLC for patent infringement.  There are two patents allegedly violated by BMW: U.S. Patent No. 5,493,702 ("Antenna Transmission Coupling Arrangement") and U.S. Patent No. 8,180,279 ("Wireless Hotspot Arrangement").

The complaint accuses BMW of infringing the '702 patent by the implementation of a system that connects a cell phone to an external antenna in order to boost reception. Additionally, Antennatech alleges that BMW infringes upon the '279 patent through use of a car system that connects a cell phone to an internal radio frequency ("RF") system.  The internal RF system uses one RF antenna to transmit and receive signals from the cell phone while another RF system is used to transmit and receive the signals from nearby networks.  The system then utilizes a hotspot-type computer-controlled bridge to connect and control the two antennae.

BMW announced the removable ConnectedDrive at last spring's New York International Auto Show. The newest upgrade to the system introduced LTE support and the implementation of the in-car hotspot.  The device, stored in the center console, uses its own SIM card and grabs a signal boost from the car's antenna.  Based upon the complaint, this setup appears to be what Antennatech argues infringes their patents.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the '702 patent to Antennatech in February 1996 and the '279 patent in May 2012.

Download and read a copy of the complaint here.

Figure 2 from the '702 patent.Figure 3B from the '279 patent.


This WEEK in LAW Discussion of eBook Article

A few weeks back, the This WEEK in LAW panel discussed one of my recent blog posts on an eBook deal in 2011 that violated an earlier publication deal from 1971.  Guest panelist Nancy Sims brought up an excellent comparison Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Tasini, from 2000. Sims discussed the negative outcome these types of agreements have on access to publications, especially classic publications and publications that might not be in an economic position to gain the attention of the larger publishers for being pulled forward into the digital age.

As Denise Howell requested, I went to find the original contract that was signed back in 1971 using my trusty friends over at Bloomberg Law.  Unfortunately, the exhibits to the docket that provided access to the original contract were filed under seal.  When I reached out to Bruce Rich, counsel for HarperCollins, he was unable to offer any additiona details due to the ongoing litigation with the case.  Our curiosity surrounding the 1971 contract – such as who was the original drafter, if they drafted in anticipation of future media formats, or what inspired them to draft with such broad language at the time – will have to be satisfied by the fragments of the contract that were made public through the opinion of Judge Buchwald.

Despite a lack of access to the original agreement, this case can still serve as a valuable lesson in contract drafting.  Watch the discussion from This WEEK in LAW on YouTube.


Apple, Netflix, Amazon, and More Face Lawsuit Over Media Transfer Patent

Image credit: Franklin Graves

On Friday, iMTX Strategic LLC filed a series of nearly identical complaints in Delaware federal court against multiple media technology companies for an alleged violation of U.S. Patent No. 7,269,854.  The patent, called "Transaction System for Transporting Media Files from Content Provider Sources to Home Entertainment Devices," purports to control the method in which a user's request for particular media is sent to a media server, authenticated for that particular user, and then subsequently received by the user from media severs.

The '854 patent was granted in 2007 and has been owned by iMTX since 2011, according to the patent registration record.  The six complaints filed on April 25 include allegations that the media companies violated the patent by the methods used to offer streaming music and video, as well as provide music and video on-demand services.

Individual complaints were filed against Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Verizon, and Vudu.  The complaints do not include a specific amount of damages or lost licensing royalties iMTX Strategic is seeking to recover.  Similar complaints have been filed by iMTX Strategic within the past year against Vimeo, Rhapsody, and Spotify.  Vimeo has since filed a response to the complaint denying all allegations of infringing the '854 patent.  Further, Vimeo claims in their response that their services do not utilize the unique encryption process described in the '854 patent.

iMTX Strategic hasn't filed any additional patent-related lawsuits other than these nine complaints to date.  You can check out all the complaints and Vimeo's answer here. It remains to be seen how these media industry giants will respond to the complaints.  What do you think of this patent?


Comic Book Creator Takes Battle to U.S. Supreme Court

Image credit: Susan SkaarAt the end of March, Jack Kirby’s descendants took their legal battle against Marvel Comics to the next level by filing a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Jack “King” Kirby is one of the most well-known figures in the history of comic books, known for creating and co-creating iconic characters such as the X-Men, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. 

Kirby’s estate has been fighting in a battle that began in early 2010 for the termination of an earlier transfer of ownership in copyrights to the characters that Kirby helped create and still maintain large amounts of popularity, as well as profit-generation. 

Termination Rights: The Works Made for Hire Exception

The Copyright Act of 1976 contains a provision known as “termination rights.”  Termination rights have become more and more popular as we have just recently started reaching the thirty-five-year mark for many copyrights registered following the 1976 Act.  In 17 U.S.C. 304(c) and (d), artists are given the ability terminate their transfer rights - effectively allowing them to reclaim ownership of their copyrighted works thirty-five years after transferring them to another party.  Congress intended this to provide original creators and their heirs the ability to recover rights that might have been assigned or licensed based upon the previous provisions of the Copyright Act.

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A Lesson In Contract Drafting: eBook Deal Violates Publisher's Copyright

American Graffiti movie poster.Star Wars taught me the importance of contract drafting.  No, seriously!  I was reading for an Entertainment Law course two years ago when I came across a case from the 1980s involving Lucasfilm, LTD and Platinum Record, Co.  The lawsuit centered around a dispute over a contract which allowed director George Lucas to use four popular songs in his film American Graffiti, first released in 1973The issue in the case didn't arise until almost a decade later, when MCA Distributing Corp. (an affiliate of Universal) released the film for sale and to rent on videocassette, which Platinum Record argued was in violation of their contract.

By this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with ebooks (or Star Wars, for that matter).  Well, last week U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald held that a 2011 ebook distribution deal signed by author Jean George violated an earlier, 1971 contract.  The 1971 contract granted publisher HarperCollins the right to publish the children's book Julie of the Wolves in "book form" and "electronic means now known or hereinafter invented."  This language in the contract is what caught my eye and provides an important lesson in contract drafting: think ahead.

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