News Summary

April 2007

MP3 – Record-breaking Patent Settlement

If the U.S. Federal Jury’s February decision in favor of Alcatel-Lucent is upheld in appeal, Microsoft will have to pay US$1.52 billion for its use of the MP3 patent – the largest patent judgement ever. This could also effect hundreds of other companies that make products, such as software, portable players, computers, etc, that play MP3 files. Alcatel-Lucent owns two patents which were filed by Bell Labs on the technology before Thomson (France) and Fraunhofer Institute (Germany) – the current licensor of the MP3 technology – joined forces with Bell Labs to develop MP3.

This decision above is part of a series of trials by Alcatel-Lucent to enforce Bell Lab patents on technology related to speech recognition, user interfaces and video processing. A week after the MP3 decision (March 2), a federal judge dismissed Alcatel-Lucent's patent claim against Microsoft over speech recognition technology.

Microsoft said it will petition the judge in the MP3 case to set aside or reduce the judgement. If that does not work, it will probably appeal the case.

A pokesperson for Alcatel-Lucent Jean Campion commented, "Intellectual property is a core asset of the company. We will continue to protect and defend that asset."


Captain Copyright’s Nemesis

(Photo Access Copyright)

Early in his super hero career, Captain Copyright – the comic strip character created by Access Copyright (Canada) – has met a sticky end. The character was developed to teach schoolchildren about the importance of copyright, but from the moment he was launched on the Internet last year to defend his cause, he ran smack into opposition from critics who labeled him as propaganda. His stance, they said, was one-sided and did not show the full picture. Even the Canadian Library Association criticized his lack of balance.

In response to the criticisms, Access Copyright worked extensively to remedy the Captain’s shortcomings, seeking assistance from educational and copyright experts, and teacher-testing the revised lessons. But in vain. Despite progress in addressing the concerns, as well as positive feedback and requests for the lesson kits from many teachers and librarians, the project was abandoned in the face of continuing opposition, just eight months after its launch.


US$25 Million for a Technological Solution to Air Pollution

"We have only our ingenuity to fall back on." - Sir Richard (Photo: NASA)

Inspired by the success of past competitions which have led to great innovations, Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group, is offering a US$25 million prize to anyone who can invent an economical way to remove polluting carbon from the atmosphere. This is the biggest prize offering in history. "We have no super-hero. We have only our ingenuity to fall back on," said Sir Richard when he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge.

Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Theory, and Sir Crispin Tickell, former British ambassador to the United Nations, will be on the panel of judges. While environmentalists have welcomed the initiative, some find it ironic that the prize is offered by an airline owner, who is also promoting commercial space travel – major sources of carbon pollution.

The Virgin Earth Challenge aims to find an innovative, cost-effective way to remove "a significant amount" of green house gases from the atmosphere every year for a decade. The winner will initially receive only US$5 million, with the rest of the prize money being paid only after the 10-year goal has been achieved.

The closing date for the Earth Challenge is February 9, 2010.


New Name for the UK Patent Office

On April 2, 2007, the United Kingdom (UK) Patent Office will change its name to the UK Intellectual Property Office. The name change is just one of the recommendations made by the Gowers Review, published in December, which examined the legal, regulatory and commercial climate in the area of intellectual (IP) in the UK. The Review states: "The name of the Patent Office can be misleading to stakeholders. The present name contributes to the perception that other forms of IP, for example copyright, take a lower priority." Along with the name change will come a change in the slogan from "for innovation" to "for creativity and innovation."

The Review further sets out a number of recommendations designed to deliver an IP framework fit for the digital age. The principle recommendations are aimed at:

  • tackling IP crime and ensuring that rights are well enforced;
  • reducing the costs and complexity of the system; and
  • reforming copyright law to allow individuals and institutions to use content in ways consistent with the digital age.


The Royal Mail’s "The World of Invention" stamp series, illustrated by cartoonist Peter Till, take a quirky look at some of the UK’s great scientific achievements. (Courtesy of The Royal Mail)


IP Australia Attains ISO Quality Management Standard

IP Australia has become one of the first IP offices in the world to attain the ISO 9001:2000 International Standard for quality management systems in respect of its key customer transactions.

"Quality management is central to our commitment to becoming an ‘Office of Choice’ in a competitive global IP market," IP Australia’s Peter Cornish (General Manager Customer Operations Group) told WIPO Magazine. "The ISO 9001:2000 Certification means our business has been independently audited and reviewed against a set of internationally agreed components of business excellence."

Approximately 91 percent (by value) of all IP Australia’s customer transactions are covered by ISO 9001:2000 certified processes. The key services recognized as having attained the international best practice standard for quality management are: Trade marks - Examination and Assisted Filing Service; Patents - National Search and Examination, International Search and Examination and Innovation Examination; Customer Services - Pre and Post Examination Services, International Services and Receipt of Correspondence.

IP Australia had already received a State Gold Award and a Silver National from the Australian Organisation for Quality. "The awards celebrate IP Australia’s commitment to encouraging Australian innovation through improving and enhancing the IP system," said Mr. Cornish.


African Performers Appeal for Assistance at WIPO Symposium in China


At a WIPO Symposium on Performers’ Rights in the Digital Network Environment, held in China in February, Mr. Alhaji Sidiku Buari, Chairman of the Copyright Owners Society of Ghana, appealed to the international community for assistance for African musicians.

Mr. Sidiku was invited to the Symposium to share his experiences from Ghana with the other participants, who were from the Asia-Pacific region. He described the plight of African performers – already suffering the consequences of rampant piracy before the advent of digital technology – who now found it virtually impossible make a living from their work. African musicians, he said, would never fulfill their potential to contribute to the global musical culture unless the problem of illegal downloading of music from the Internet was halted.

Mr. Yan Xiaohong, Deputy Director of National Copyright Administration of China, reported on progress in tightening regulations to protect artists' rights in China, but noted the need for further improvement in the area of enforcement.

The Symposium participants agreed that closer international collaboration, greater support to performers’ associations, and increased public awareness, were essential to protecting the rights of their stakeholders in the digital environment.


Innovation in the Classroom: South African Solar Energy Workbook

The Technology Department of the University of Johannesburg has published a new workbook for secondary school pupils, designed to stimulate innovation through critical and creative thinking. "The Impact of Technology on the Environment (Solar Energy)" is a comprehensive, yet user-friendly workbook which focuses on the benefits, impact and household application of solar energy. The book helps pupils to construct simple, but effective, solar cookers using everyday household items, while helping to develop their skills in decision-making, problem-solving and design. It is accompanied by an information packed facilitator guide.

The use of energy has increased drastically since the earliest times of the industrial revolution, yet in 1994 only around 40 percent of South Africans had electricity in their homes. The situation has improved, but the burning of fossil fuels to create energy comes at a price for the planet: global warming, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, deforestation, soil erosion, health problems, etc. The University of Johannesburg’s schools project helps promote solar energy as an efficient and non-polluting alternative.


The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.