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Legal fight fuels tensions in tight-knit tech world

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A trademark-infringement case brought against App Press LLC threatens to smother the tech startup in legal fees before it reaches its potential.

And in a curious twist, the case also has generated grumblings in the tightknit developer community toward a big law firm that is representing App Press’ opponent in the federal court case.

Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP, whose clients include numerous Indiana tech entrepreneurs and which has supported local tech initiatives, is representing New York City-based Apress Media LLC against locally based App Press.

App Press was founded two years ago by 20-something wunderkinds Grant Glas and Kevin Smith. The duo’s software, accessed by customers over its website, allows graphic designers to create an app for mobile devices even if they don’t know how to write software code.

The product appears to have hit the bull’s-eye, based on reviews in such trade journals as PC Mag.com and the magazine of the Society of Publications Designers.

App Press has more than 100 recurring customers as far away as Australia. Also notable is that it has drawn a financial and advisory interest from Minh Nguyen, who — with Napster founder Sean Parker — created online address book and social media site Plaxo. Communication giant Comcast bought Plaxo in 2008.

Legal battles “can crush a company,” said Nguyen, now CEO of the software firm Syllabuster, who came to town to help Glas and Smith refine their product.

“To have all that taken away just because of some legal mumbo jumbo … Dude, it’s like taking away the name of your baby,” Nguyen said.

The potentially expensive legal battle began last year. That’s when Apress’ lawyers in Boston sent App Press a letter alleging the Indianapolis firm was trying to play off the trademarked Apress name recognition to appeal to designers and developers, “the very customers for our client’s goods and services.”

App Press’ lawyer, Jake Cox, disputed the trademark infringement claim. He said the two companies’ names are distinct enough and aren’t even pronounced similarly.

Apress used to be known as Author’s Press and describes itself as the “leading publisher” in programming resources for the iPhone, iPad and Android markets. Its customers use its publication to do such things as app coding.

The legal wrangling continued. An attorney for Apress responded to Cox that the fact that App Press is two words rather than one and is spelled differently is irrelevant from a trademark standpoint “because when the marks are pronounced in the normal course of conversation, they are likely to sound the same.”

With persistent cease-and-desist requests by Apress, App Press last May filed a complaint for declaratory relief in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

“Based on Apress Media’s recent conduct, App Press is faced with the choice of abandoning its right to use the registered trademark App Press or being sued for liability and damages regarding such use,” Cox said in the court filing.

Then, last July, Barnes & Thornburg entered the picture. It took on the case on behalf of Apress, filing a counterclaim and reasserting its claims App Press was guilty of trademark infringement.

“There is a risk that consumers and authors may mistakenly associate content published by App Press — lacking any meaningful content review or quality control — with Apress, thereby harming Apress’ reputation as a publisher of high-quality works,” an attorney for Barnes and Thornburg wrote.

The case is still pending. But word that Barnes & Thornburg was working against a local tech firm has circulated among developers, including those at Developer Town.

“I’m a big supporter of Grant and everything he’s doing,” said Michael Coffey, a partner at Developer Town. “The smart choice would be to back out of the case,” Coffey said of Barnes & Thornburg. If not, “it would lose a lot of credibility.”

He added that rival law firm Ice Miller would be happy to expand its services to the local tech community, which he calls “a very, very tight community.”

The law firm, in a statement, said it is reticent to discuss client matters publicly.

“Unfortunately, businesses can find that their interests conflict and sometimes this leads to disputes. When one of our clients is involved in a dispute, it’s our job to represent them,” said B&T.

“Our firm proudly supports the Indianapolis technology community. We have a long history of promoting a vigorous and healthy climate for all business and entrepreneurial activity in Indiana and beyond, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

Business is business, but the legal dispute has turned out to be a distraction for App Press.

“We took all the necessary steps,” Glas said of Apress’ challenge, noting that his firm successfully filed for and obtained a trademark.

He’s trying to look at the positive side, interpreting Apress’ challenge as a validation of sorts of App Press’ growing presence in the market.

Nguyen said Glas and Smith have been on the right track.

“They’ve done everything. They put in all the right tools. They’re collecting data from the users. To see that execution transfer into exponential growth and make money has been fascinating,” said Nguyen, who in recent years has coached about 10 companies.

Not only that, he tells the App Press team, “You guys haven’t [even] done any marketing.”

Such talk from a Silicon Valley rock star is affirming to Glas, who met Nguyen earlier this year at Distilled Intelligence, an event hosted in Washington, D.C.

After Glas’ pitch, App Press placed in the top 10.

At a cocktail party that followed, Nguyen, whom Glas didn’t know, approached him and told Glas he liked the company’s business model.

Later, “a reporter said, ‘Do you know who you were talking with?’” Glas recalled. “I went back up to him.”

Nguyen has been helping the firm refine its product offering as well as inspiring the duo to think big about the possibilities of growth.

“We’ve been here at least 13, 14 hours a day,” Nguyen said of his recent visit to Indianapolis.

“The development community here is pretty deep. I just didn’t know how deep,” he said. “Indiana has lots of startups. It’s a nice surprise, really.”

As for how this whole legal battle with Apress will turn out, at the least it will provide a good life lesson, said Developer Town’s Coffey.

Coffey was involved in a company that found itself in a battle against Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., whose holdings include the locally based Carrier brand of HVAC systems. After his company created a product for UTC, the corporate giant insisted on partial rights to it.

It was a costly distraction, but his company eventually won its fight.

“Do we crowd-fund a legal defense?” Nguyen thinks, openly, back at the loft in Broad Ripple.

Like a protective uncle, he advises the local tech community to “band together and try to help these guys.”•

Originally published in Indianapolis Business Journal.

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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