A novelty company has ended its dispute with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) in which it had accused the Seattle giant of ripping off its concept for cell phone commercials.
The ads in question, tilted ‘Bathroom Really’ and ‘Bedroom Really,’ involve a man obsessed with his mobile device. In one ad, another man asks ‘Really?’ as the phone user retrieves his cell from a urinal and continues texting. In another, his preoccupation leads an ignored woman in a negligee to throw a pillow at him. The tag line is “It’s time for a phone to save us from our phones.”
Cellrderm, a Boca Raton firm that makes novelty phones, says Microsoft’s ad agency, CPB, violated its copyright by lifting the bedroom and bathroom sequences from its own commercials. The Florida company’s ads likewise shows a man retrieving a phone from a urinal and a spurned woman throwing a bedroom item.
The parties agreed to dismiss the suit this week following a mediation process that took place after the lawsuit was filed last July. As is customary, the outcome of the mediation was not disclosed in the court filings. But the fact that it took place at all suggests Microsoft’s lawyers believed the Florida company had a case. Tech firms, which are sued frequently, typically file to dismiss complaints brought by small companies.
The fight over the commercials turns on a copyright rule that says ideas can’t be protected but that expressions of them can be. One of the most famous examples is a ruling from the 1920’s in which a court found that a playwright couldn’t sue Universal over The Cohens and the Kellys even though the movie shared a play’s theme of a star-crossed Jewish-Italian couple.
In the case of the phone commercials, Cellrderm felt that Microsoft didn’t just take its idea but took the expression of it as well well. You can judge for yourself by looking at Microsoft’s bathroom commercial here and Cellrderm’s earlier version here.