Bloomberg Terminal Design Case Ends With Settlement

January 24, 2013

You might remember the post I wrote on this infringement case back in July. Check that one out for photos of the products in question. If you’ve ever seen or worked with a Bloomberg data terminal, that’s what was at issue in this case, with Bloomberg claiming that the Shanghai company, Da Zhi Hui (aka “Great Wisdom”), was guilty of a trade dress infringement.

Well, this case settled, and Bloomberg withdrew the complaint from the Shanghai First Intermediate Court. I’d really like to know why, but somehow I doubt that anyone from Bloomberg is going to tell me what happened.

Why do I care? It’s not exactly an earth-shattering case. The Shanghai firm is in the financial data business like Bloomberg, and sells a similar service complete with desktop dedicated data terminals. The design of those terminals, including the keyboard and color-coded system, looks suspiciously like the Bloomberg design, which has been around for a long time.

Your basic trade dress (brought under China’s Anti-Unfair Competition Law) case. Bloomberg filed the case about a year ago, and a hearing was held by the Shanghai court last July (that’s when I wrote my post on the topic). My interest here lies in my suspicion that this settlement is yet another example of “judicial mediation.”

My first question is why so many months went by without a judgment. July to January – kind of a long time. One article I read suggests that the court may have requested further information after the initial hearing, but come on. The case isn’t that complicated, and we’re talking about six months. I’m not buying that explanation.

My guess? Once again, I think the court might have strongly encouraged {ahem} the parties to settle. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing this case wrap up just days before the Spring Festival holiday. It’s that time of the year to clear dockets, and judges can get aggressive when it comes to pushing settlements on litigants.

The statements made by the parties (as reported in the articles I read) don’t exactly match up. It sounds like Bloomberg’s story is that the case was only withdrawn once the infringer agreed to, and made, changes to the product design. Sounds fine, although what happened to that one million USD claim for damages? Hmm.

Here’s a Bloomberg quote that was in the Shanghai Daily:

“Our objectives have been met, and we agreed to withdraw the complaint against Da Zhi Hui Co,” Bloomberg said in an e-mailed statement. “Da Zhi Hui made certain changes to those elements, thereby limiting the risk that consumers would confuse the two products.”

Right. Strange that Bloomberg doesn’t say that these changes were made at the behest of Bloomberg, which makes me wonder whether the spin put out by Da Zhi Hui may be true (see below).

How about Da Zhi Hui? A slightly different story. They say that changes to the product had nothing to do with the infringement case:

“The result signals a victory to us,” Zhang Long, an investor relations staff member of Great Wisdom, told the Global Times Wednesday.

“Bloomberg spent more than 2 million yuan for lawyers’ fees on this lawsuit. Withdrawing the lawsuit indicates that it lacks confidence that it can win the case,” a staff member at the legal department of Great Wisdom, who declined to give her name, told the Global Times.

“We make changes to our financial services terminal on a regular basis to meet our clients’ demand, not because of the lawsuit,” she said.

So the big question for me remains: did the judge force the settlement, with Bloomberg dropping the case in return for design changes? If yes, then the Da Zhi Hui statement would be pure spin. 

Who was the winner here? It all depends what those changes were, and unfortunately I don’t have pics to go along with this. If the changes were significant, then I would assume Bloomberg is satisfied. As far as that million bucks is concerned, let’s face it, in terms of a typical China IP litigation, particularly for something like trade dress, that amount is quite high. I doubt an actual judgment would have given them anything near that amount.

Da Zhi Hui might be happy if those changes were minor, and of course they didn’t have to pay damages, which is a bonus. (By the way, that comment by one of their in-house lawyers about the other side’s legal fees (how would she know that?) is really unprofessional.)

You’d think I’d be used to these settlements already, but no. I’m too curious.