World Intellectual Property Organization

News Roundup

September 2006

Samsung’s Touch Messenger enables blind users to send text messages in Braille. (Courtesy Samsung)
Samsung’s Touch Messenger enables blind users to send text messages in Braille. (Courtesy Samsung)

IDEA: Asian Industrial Designers Excel

The 2006 Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) saw design teams from Asia scoop over a quarter of this year’s 27 Gold Awards. The IDEA awards, which are among the most sought after awards for product-design by large and small companies across the world, focused on five areas – design innovation, benefit to the user, benefit to the client/business, ecological responsibility, and appropriate aesthetics and appeal. The judges made their selection from the 499 designs submitted to this year’s competition.

Among the gold winners, announced in July, were:

  • Samsung’s Touch Messenger mobile phone, which enables blind or visually-impaired users to send and receive Braille text messages. Samsung hopes that, once commercialized, their phone will improve the quality of life for visually impaired people – who number some 180 million worldwide. Samsung also walked away with two Silver awards. The company has won 19 IDEA awards over the last five years and ranks first in the number of IDEA awards ever won.
  • the Seymourpowell design for the ENV (Emission Neutral Vehicle) bike by Intelligent Energy. The ENV bike has been engineered and purpose-built from the ground up, and demonstrates the applicability of hydrogen fuel cell technology for everyday use. The Core, which is completely detachable from the bike, is a compact and efficient fuel cell, which Intelligent Energy say is capable of powering anything from a motorboat to a small household.
  • Lenovo’s Opti Desktop PC and Visioneering. China’s largest computer manufacturer, which recently acquired IBM’s PC unit, took on ZIBA Designs to define its next-generation desktop PC, notebook and cell phone, and to reinvent the company image.

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G8 Commit to Combat Counterfeiting

At their summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July, the Group of Eight (G8) nations reaffirmed their commitment "to strengthening individual and collective efforts to combat piracy and counterfeiting," noting that "such efforts will contribute to sustainable development of the world economy." The group issued a six-point statement outlining the priorities and concrete measures which will form the basis of the G8’s work plan on piracy and counterfeiting.

The statement calls for enhanced cooperation with and among the competent international organizations, notably WIPO, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Customs Organization (WCO), Interpol, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Council of Europe. Such cooperation should lead to the development and implementation of "technical assistance pilot plans within the G8 in interested developing countries to build the capacity necessary to combat trade in counterfeit and pirated goods."

The member states of the G8 are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States of America. Also present at the summit in Saint Petersburg were Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Mexico and South Africa.

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What’s in a Verb?

With the term "to google" now appearing in a number of major dictionaries, the owners of the world’s most popular Internet search engine are fighting a rearguard action to try to prevent what some IP lawyers refer to the "genericide" of their trademark.

The company has been issuing letters asking the media to refrain from using its name as a verb. "With constant generic use, trademarks can lose their special status and the proper name capitalization," says Google.

Many users seemed puzzled by Google's action: "They should be flattered," or, "Surely it's free advertising" were typical of comments on blogs reacting to the news. But lawyers note that, as a trademark owner, Google is obliged to demonstrate that it is protecting its rights in the name. Otherwise the company could in future face difficulties defending against infringements.*

Yo-yo, trampoline and nylon were also all once trademarks, but their popular use as generic terms was their own undoing.

*For advice to businesses on protecting trademarks, see Trademark Usage: Getting the Basics Right, WIPO Magazine March/April 2004

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Kazaa Settles Lawsuit

Kazaa, the peer-to-peer (P2P) digital file sharing Internet service, is moving to a legal model. The Australian court had ruled against them in 2005, finding Sharman Networks, its parent company, guilty of inciting users to swap music illegally – a breach of copyright law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Internet companies could be held accountable for promoting copyright theft by users of their services. So following the move of its predecessor, Napster, Kazaa will make the switch to licensed distribution of music and movies.

Kazaa agreed in July to an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit brought against them by the music and record industry, accusing the company of assisting in copyright infringement on the Internet. Under the agreement, Sharman will pay some US$100 million to Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music, and the companies will be entitled to 20 percent of the proceeds of any eventual sale of Kazaa. Sharman also agreed to license the music of the four companies – owners of the vast majority of copyrighted music available on Internet – and to filter technology so that its users could no longer swap copyrighted files.

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The Thrill of IP Law

IP law as the subject of a thriller? It took Professor Paul Goldstein five years to write, but his Errors and Omissions could become the first ever best-selling IP novel. During a 39-year career in IP law, as a Stanford professor and counsel to the Morrision & Forrester law firm, Paul Goldstein saw scope for intrigue aplenty in copyright and patent law.

The novel follows an IP lawyer, a "defender of artists’ rights," who is summoned to Hollywood by a big movie studio to verify the IP rights for a spy movie franchise. His investigation takes him to Europe, facing sundry perils along the way. The story was inspired by a case in the 1980s, in which Professor Goldstein helped defend the rights of MGM and United Artists to the James Bond series against Sony Pictures.

Professor Goldstein has published eight academic and legal books, but this is his first novel. "It was something I could not not do," he said. "To have billions of dollars turning on fine points of law, I found that fascinating."

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