October 7, 2015

Tracy Morgan

Walmart has made good with comedian Tracy Morgan over the June 2014 traffic collision involving one of its drivers that left Morgan seriously injured. Making good with its insurance companies, on the other hand, is a different matter.

The retail giant has filed a lawsuit against a number of insurance companies including Liberty Insurance Underwriters, the Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and QBE Insurance Corporation, claiming that the companies haven’t paid their portion of the settlements made as a result of the crash, Courthouse News Service reports.

“Some of Walmart’s insurance companies have met their obligations under the insurance policies they sold and compensated Walmart for a portion of the settlement amounts,” the complaint reads. “Other of Walmart’s insurance companies, the defendants here, have in bad faith refused to consent to these settlements and have refused to pay their portions of the settlement under the insurance policies that they sold.”

The collision occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike when a Walmart truck driven by Kevin Roper collided with a limo bus carrying Morgan and others, including comedian James McNair, who was killed in the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board later determined that Roper had only had four hours of “sleep opportunity” in the preceding 33 hours, diminishing his awareness.

Walmart settled with Morgan as well as McNair’s family. While the company’s settlement with Morgan was confidential, Walmart reportedly agreed to a $10 million settlement to McNair’s family.

“Walmart took full responsibility for the tragic accident and did what was right to ensure the well-being of those who were impacted. We funded the settlement agreements in full, but some of the insurance carriers have failed to pay their portion of the settlement amount,” Walmart told TheWrap in a statement. “This is no different than any individual who holds an insurance policy, makes a claim for a covered loss, and then is told by the insurance company that despite the existence of coverage, they don’t intend to pay.”

The lawsuit also claims that the insurance companies continually made “harassing and pretextual demands for more and more information” as “a pretext to avoid settling the Survivors Lawsuit.”

Alleging breach of contract, negligent failure to settle claim within policy limits and bad-faith failure to settle claim within policy limits, Walmart is seeking unspecified damages.

By: Tim Kenneally
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

August 24, 2015

The 2009 Dominick's advertisement that resulted in a lawsuit.

It took Michael Jordan nearly six years, but he's finally come out victorious in the long-running Chicago court case over the use of his identity without permission in a grocery store advertisement.

A jury of Jordan's peers — ha! — ruled Friday in favor of the Chicago Bulls legend and Charlotte Hornets owner, ordering a grocery-store chain to pay the Hall of Famer $8.9 million for the unapproved and unlicensed use of his name in an ad. The decision brings an end to a legal action that actually outlived the supermarket that ran the ad in a special edition of Sports Illustrated commemorating His Airness' enshrinement in Springfield, Mass.

As we laid out a couple of summers ago, the beef stems from steak:

When Jordan was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, and prior to the wildly inappropriate speech he gave in the induction ceremonies, local Chicago grocery chain Dominick’s released an ad congratulating Jordan on his accomplishment, while pointing out that, while you’re at it, you can use your Dominick’s card or a coupon in the ad to take in the tasty two dollar savings on a “Rancher’s Reserve Steak.”

Jordan found out about it and decided to sue Dominick's for $5 million. The real kicker for Safeway, which bought Dominick's in 1998 for $1.2 billion, comes courtesy of's Darren Rovell:

In addition, the ad itself was of little benefit to the company. Since the ad was in a commemorative Sports Illustrated issue, those who bought the magazine were hesitant to tear out the ad. Only two people were found to have redeemed the $2 steak coupon.

Not exactly a killer return on investment, there.

While one judge took Jordan to task for attempting to make a "legal mountain" from a "legal molehill" by calling for Safeway, the parent company of the now-defunct Dominick's chain, it always seemed that the case had merit. Dominick's did use Michael Jordan's name without his permission in an ad aimed at selling discounted steaks; it stands to reason that this would irk M.J., considering he's already in the business of selling his own steaks.

Plus, as our Eric Freeman noted earlier this week, "the chain does not deny wrongdoing," meaning the main matter left to resolve was how much money to award Jordan. From Michael Tarm of The Associated Press:

Steven Mandell, the Dominick's attorney, [...] said Jordan's attorneys overvalued their client's name, saying jurors should award Jordan no more than $126,900.
Evidence presented during trial provided a peek at Jordan's extraordinary wealth, including the $480 million he made from Nike alone between 2000 to 2012.

That evidence included testimony from sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, who pegged the "fair market value" of Jordan's identity at about $10 million per business deal. That squared with the testimony of Estee Portnoy, the marketing executive who's been described as Jordan's "consigliere" and "the buffer between Jordan and the world", and who said Jordan will not do business with anyone unless the deal will ultimately be worth more than $10 million. (Subsequent answers, however, indicated that M.J. occasionally makes exceptions to that platinum rule.)

After six hours of deliberation, the jurors settled on a figure far closer to Jordan's $10 million asking price than Safeway's sub-$150,000 figure; at one point, according to Tarm, they sent a note to the judge reading, "We need a calculator." Those zeroes sure do add up, after all.

The mammoth award apparently won't be added to the top of billionaire Jordan's Scrooge McDuck vault, though. More from Rovell:

"I'm pleased with today's verdict," Jordan said in a statement. "No one — whether or not they're a public figure — should have to worry about their identity being used without their permission. The case was not about the money as I plan to donate the proceeds to charity. It was about honesty and integrity. I hope this case sends a clear message, both here in the United States and around the world, that I will continue to be vigilant about protecting my name and identity. I also hope the size of the monetary reward will deter others from using someone else's identity and believe they will only pay a small penalty."

If nothing else, it certainly gives Jordan and his representatives encouragement to continue their concerted efforts to protect M.J.'s brand, image and likeness from those who might look to leverage those valuable assets for their own benefit.

Jordan recently lost a trademark lawsuit against a Chinese footwear company he claimed was using a name and logo similar to his Nike brand, but he's still got one big iron in the fire: a suit filed at the same time as the one against Dominick's, calling Jewel Food Stores to task for running a similar ad featuring a pair of Air Jordan basketball sneakers with Jordan's number 23 on the tongues, juxtaposed with a congratulatory message capped with Jewel's "just around the corner" slogan.

That case has also wended its way through the courts for more than a half-decade, and is scheduled to go to trial in December. Depending on how quickly things move, that could mean a very happy holiday season for more Chicago-area charities.

By: Dan Devine

August 21, 2015

Forbes has released its list of best-paid actresses, and it will come as no surprise at all that 25-year-old J.Law is crushing it at the very top. Lawrence raked in $52 million pre-tax during Forbes’ 12-month time frame — nearly $20 million more than in 2014. She stole the top spot from Sandra Bullock (who went from $51 million to $8 million).

Not so close on J.Law’s heels are Scarlett Johansson and Melissa McCarthy, who bagged $35.5 million and $23 million, respectively, for the second and third spots.

Forbes notes this is its first "global" index — though only one non-American, Chinese star Bingbing Fan, made the cut. The numbers reportedly come from box-office data and reflect the earnings before management fees and taxes; they also include endorsement deals.

#2 - Scarlett Johansson

#3 - Melissa McCarthy

#4 - Bingbing Fan

#5 - Jennifer Aniston

Here are your leading women:

1. Jennifer Lawrence: $52 million
2. Scarlett Johansson: $35.5 million
3. Melissa McCarthy: $23 million
4. Bingbing Fan: $21 million
5. Jennifer Aniston: $16.5 million
6. Julia Roberts: $16 million
7. Angelina Jolie: $15 million
8. Reese Witherspoon: $15 million
9. Anne Hathaway: $12 million
10. Kristen Stewart: $12 million
11. Cameron Diaz: $11 million
12. Gwyneth Paltrow: $9 million
13. Meryl Streep: $8 million
14. Amanda Seyfried: $8 million
15. Sandra Bullock: $8 million
16. Emma Stone: $6.5 million
17. Mila Kunis: $6.5 million
18. Natalie Portman: $6 million

Forbes also points out that although the figures at the top might look large, the findings underscore that Hollywood’s gender pay-gap is still a veritable chasm. The magazine published its leading-men list earlier this month, which included 34 people earning a total of $941 million. The cutoff to make the women’s list was $6 million, while the men’s was $13 million.

Four women notched more than $20 million; 21 men did the same. The move toward wage equality is proceeding glacially.

June 2, 2015

Nearly 6 years after his death, Michael Jackson’s beloved “Neverland” estate is up for sale. The singer purchased the now-iconic estate in 1987 for $19.5 million. It is currently on the market for a whopping $100 million. But you’ll have to bring your own amusement park rides and zoo animals.

Nestled among the hills, the 2,700 acres about 40 minutes outside of Santa Barbara are a sight to behold. There are 22 separate structures on the property, including a 12,000-square-foot multi-gabled main house and two separate guest houses. The main house has 6 bedrooms and staff quarters.

Many of the property’s perks are standard celebrity real estate accouterments: a swimming pool, basketball court, tennis court and 50-seat movie theater with balcony. There are also two lakes.

Other fantastical structures are from Jackson’s imagination: railways and the grand train station he had built, a floral clock that spells “Neverland” and a “Neverland Valley Fire Department” firehouse that was, at one time, staffed with full-time firefighters. The stage in the movie theater even includes trap doors for magic performances.

But the amusement park rides and zoo animals Jackson kept on property are all gone, save a lonely llama.

Other Jackson-related real estate has been put up for sale in the last few years. A Las Vegas home where he was the last tenant was listed at $19.5 million. Jackson lived in the guest villa instead of the main house while rehearsing for his Las Vegas show.

Then there’s the home where Jackson died which hit the market for $23.9 million. That home was leased for Jackson by concert promoter AEG Live while the superstar prepared for his comeback tour in 2007.

May 7, 2015

Matthew Kohr

The North Carolina police lieutenant, who is suing Starbucks after burning himself when his free cup of coffee spilled, took the stand for the second time today saying that he wasn't prepared for how hot the beverage was.

"I didn't know it was that hot," Matthew Kohr said during his cross examination in a Raleigh court today.

Kohr and his wife are suing the coffee giant for $750,000 to cover legal and medical expenses as well as the damages they both suffered -- from his burns that he claims caused a flare up in his pre-existing Crohn's disease and caused him to have intestinal surgery, and for the emotional distress that his wife went through in the loss of her "intimate partner," as described in the lawsuit. The suit states that the lid popped up and the cup folded in on itself, spilling the hot coffee on Kohr's thigh and groin area.

NC Cop Whose Free Coffee Spilled on Him Suing Starbucks
Kohr said that the January 2012 incident had repercussions on his work life, not only forcing him to take time off from work but it also impacted his job performance when he was there. Kohr said that he had a new level of "edginess, nervousness, wasn't comfortable in the car."

He said in court today that his role as a supervisor required him to be comfortable leading people "and being confident and I didn't have those same feelings as I had in the past."

Kohr discussed the process by which he and his wife Melanie went through to decide on the amount that they decided to ask Starbucks for, noting that initially they had talked about asking for $10 million.

"It was hard to put a price on what my wife had to go through, what my kids had to go through," Kohr said. "What's a year and a half, two years of your life worth? I thought it was worth $10 million."

"As time went on, as we learned more information, as we learned how the process develops ... we adjusted the number and came up with $750,000 and that's what we're asking," he said.

The attorneys representing Starbucks asked Kohr detailed questions about the various medications he was taking and the exact dates when he was unable to work.
A Starbucks spokesperson told ABC News the safety of their customers and employees "is our top priority" and the company denied any wrongdoing.

"We believe our store partners did nothing wrong and are prepared to present our case at trial," the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement issued Tuesday.

A fellow police officer who was at the Starbucks with Kohr on the day of the incident testified about the moments after the spill, saying how the lid was "like a jack in the box, it just kind of spooks you and goes flying up in the air."

"He turned really, really beet red in his face. He was in a lot of pain," the officer said of Kohr.

The then-manager of the Starbucks also testified, reading portions of the company's handbook where it dictates that a sleeve should be used for all venti cups containing hot beverages. Kohr and his legal team maintains that no such sleeve was used on the day of the accident.

April 12, 2015

After years of often-breathless speculation about her future, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in politics: She’s running for president. The former first lady and secretary of state officially entered the 2016 presidential race with an announcement to supporters from her campaign chairman Sunday, which is set to be followed by an email from Clinton herself, followed by visits in coming days to key early-voting states including Iowa.

It’s an intentionally low-key kick-off plotted by a campaign seeking to avoid the mistakes of Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid. In 2007, the then-New York senator entered the race as the overwhelming favorite but ultimately lost ground to an insurgent candidate named Barack Obama amid the perception of an unwieldy campaign apparatus and her inability to personally connect with voters.

Eight years later, Clinton again enters the race as the overwhelming front-runner—albeit this time with no real challenger, as of yet. But instead of mounting the same shock-and-awe campaign aimed at scaring away potential opponents, Clinton’s strategists are said to be plotting a more humble approach to 2016 in hopes of winning over voters who complained eight years ago that she was inaccessible and distant.

Formal confirmation of her candidacy first came in the form of emails from John Podesta, the presumptive chairman of her 2016 campaign, to donors, 2008 campaign staffers and and members of Congress on Sunday. “I wanted to make sure you heard it first from me — it’s official: Hillary’s running for president,” he wrote in one missive. In another, he noted: “There will be a formal kickoff event next month.”

Instead of massive campaign rallies and big policy speeches designed to show political muscle, Clinton initially aims to make her case in more intimate, small-scale events, including town halls and living room visits where she can reach voters one-on-one. Clinton’s goal—at least in the early days of her bid—is to run her campaign just as Obama did eight years ago, as if she is the unknown insurgent candidate in the race. Like Obama before her, Clinton hopes to show that she is approachable and empathetic to the struggle of average Americans—and above all, willing to fight for their votes even if she is far ahead in the polls.

“The forums are designed to highlight her humor, common touch, smarts in a more intimate and personal setting that is especially conducive to showcasing her personality,” said Chris Lehane, a longtime Democratic operative who previously worked in Bill Clinton’s White House. “Like when Michael Jordan played his best at Madison Square Garden, she really shines in these kind of more personal venues.”

But the strategy raises an interesting challenge for Clinton and her campaign: Can the biggest rock star in the Democratic Party really go small?

Clinton is not in any realm a typical political candidate. She travels with an entourage wherever she goes—including a Secret Service detail and a massive press corps that will seek to follow her everywhere. There’s also the issue of her Republican opponents, who will have trackers on her tail aiming to film any public interaction she has in hopes of capturing a gaffe or misstep they could use against her campaign.

It’s not yet clear exactly how her team plans to balance the often circus-like atmosphere that trails Clinton with their goal of showcasing the candidate in more intimate settings. It’s something they never quite figured out eight years ago.

In early reports, unnamed Clinton associates have likened her 2016 approach to the “listening tour” that preceded her successful run for New York’s Senate seat in 2000 when she was still living in the White House. It’s easy to forget that she initially tried the same approach when she decided to run for the 2008 Democratic nomination. She announced her bid on YouTube with promises that her campaign would be driven by “conversations” with voters.

That was followed by her first official event as a candidate: a visit to a small community clinic in New York City to discuss health-care reform. It was an intimate event, aimed at showcasing one of Clinton’s signature issues. But her talk was overshadowed by a mob scene of reporters and curious onlookers who pushed and shoved trying to get close to the candidate, as she tried to talk to families who had been invited to meet her. In the end, the disastrous optics became the story, and her campaign cut back on similar events. A few days later, Clinton traveled to Des Moines for what her campaign had billed as a “town hall.” More than 1,000 people showed up—along with more than 100 reporters. It would set the standard for most of Clinton’s events for the next year.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire subsequently complained that Clinton was not accessible enough. Her events were too big, her entourage too unruly. As she begins her second presidential bid in earnest, Clinton also has to strike a balance between the demand for up-close-and-personal campaigning with voters who also like to complain if they can’t get into events to see the candidates—which seems likely given the excitement and anticipation around her 2016 bid.

Still, the biggest unknown is whether Clinton really can go low-key. Several Democratic strategists demurred on the question, but all agreed that any strategy trying to show what one called “the real Hillary” would be a winning strategy in early primary states where impressions matter.

Of course, not having any serious competition helps, too. Only a handful of Democrats have announced that they are exploring potential runs. That includes Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is touting his foreign policy credentials in the race, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who has attacked Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq and her ties to Wall Street. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has also been campaigning, but he’s barely a blip in the polls.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been courted by the left to run, has so far rejected a bid for the White House. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden, who runs a distant second to Clinton in many swing state polls, has not announced whether he’ll run in 2016.

For Clinton, not having a serious opponent raises another interesting question for her campaign: How to run a primary campaign that is much more about the general election already.

In Iowa, Clinton’s strategists have a tentative answer to that question. According to the Washington Post, Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told party leaders there last month the Clinton campaign would not only focus on electing her president but also building up the party there and in other states.

To that end, her campaign is reportedly planning to raise at least $2.5 billion for the eventual direct contest against a Republican opponent.

By: Holly Bailey (National Correspondent)

April 11, 2015

PANAMA CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro sat down together Saturday in the first formal meeting of the two country's leaders in a half-century, pledging to reach for the kind of peaceful relationship that has eluded their nations for generations.

In a small conference room in a Panama City convention center, the two sat side by side in a bid to inject fresh momentum into their months-old effort to restore diplomatic ties. Reflecting on the historic nature of the meeting, Obama said he felt it was time to try something new and to engage with both Cuba's government and its people.

"What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility," Obama said. "And over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries."

Castro, for his part, said he agreed with everything Obama had said — a stunning statement in and of itself for the Cuban leader. But he added the caveat that they had "agreed to disagee" at times. Castro said he had told the Americans that Cuba was willing to discuss issues such as human rights and freedom of the press, maintaining that "everything can be on the table."

"We are disposed to talk about everything — with patience," Castro said in Spanish. "Some things we will agree with, and others we won't."

And nothing is static, he added, noting that disagreements today could turn into areas of agreement tomorrow. "The pace of life at the present moment in the world — it's very fast."

US President Barack Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Summit of the …
Not since 1958 have a U.S. and Cuban leader convened a substantial meeting. Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met that year, and the following year, former Cuban President Fidel Castro met with Richard Nixon, who was vice president at the time.

But relations quickly entered into a deep freeze amid the Cold War, and the U.S. spent decades trying to either isolate or actively overthrow the Cuban government.

In a stroke of coincidence, Eisenhower's meeting with Batista in 1958 also took place in Panama, imbuing Saturday's session between Obama and Castro with a sense of having come full circle.

The historic gathering played out on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which this year included Cuba for the first time. Although the meeting wasn't publicly announced in advance, White House aides had suggested the two leaders were looking for an opportunity to meet while in Panama and to discuss the ongoing efforts to open embassies in Havana and Washington, among other issues.

In his brief remarks to reporters at the start of the meeting, Obama acknowledged that Cuba, too, would continue raising concerns about U.S. policies — earning a friendly smirk from Castro.

Raw: Leaders Gather for Summit of the AmericasPlay videoRaw: Leaders Gather for Summit of the Americas
"We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult for our countries to communicate," Obama said.

The flurry of diplomacy, which kicked off Friday evening with an historic handshake between Obama and Castro, was aimed at injecting fresh momentum into their delicate plan to restore normal relations between their countries. The two presidents sent shockwaves throughout the hemisphere in December when they announced the plan for rapprochement, and their envoys have spent the ensuing months working through thorny issues such as sanctions, the re-opening of embassies and Cuba's place on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Although earlier in the week Obama suggested a decision to remove Cuba from the list was imminent, he didn't say Saturday whether he would move ahead with that step. The U.S. State Department recently concluded a review recommending Cuba be taken off the list, fueling speculation that Obama would use the occasion of the summit to announce the move.

Removal from the terror list is a top priority for Castro because it would not only purge a stain on Cuba's pride, but also ease its ability to conduct simple financial transactions.


April 1, 2015
Sears Holdings Corp. will raise more than $2.5 billion by siphoning off 254 stores into a real estate investment trust, the struggling retailer said on Wednesday.
The newly formed REIT, Seritage Growth Properties, will buy and lease back the Sears and Kmart stores.

Shares jumped 7% to $44.22 in pre-market trading.

The company’s decision to move forward with a REIT was anticipated, and represents another urgent effort to raise cash. The department store chain hasn’t turned a profit for several years.

It will fund the purchase, in part, with the money raised from shareholders through a rights offering. Billionaire CEO Eddie Lampert and his hedge fund, who together own almost half of the company, said they intend to fully exercise their pro-rata portion of the subscription rights.

The company also said on Wednesday that it was partnering with General Growth Properties to form a joint real estate venture, in which it will contribute 12 Sears properties located at GGP malls. In exchange, Sears Holdings will get $165 million in cash and a 50% stake in the venture.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates our ability to unlock a small portion of Sears Holdings’ vast and valuable real estate portfolio, and represents an important step in the continued transformation of Sears Holdings,” said Lampert in a statement.

As of the end of January, Sears Holdings owned or leased 1,725 Kmart and Sears stores.

When the company announced it was exploring the possibility of a REIT in November, investors cheered and sent shares surging more than 30%. The stock is up roughly 23% over the last 12 months.

By: Lauren Gensler - Forbes Staff

March 25, 2015

On a pre-programmed course in an old airfield in Alameda, Calif., a silverfish-shaped car meanders through a cardboard city full of frozen people and cut-out trees. Here at the edge of Silicon Valley, looking back across the bay at the San Francisco skyline and just minutes from Mercedes-Benz’s Research facility in Sunnyvale, the F 015 “Luxury In Motion” autonomous prototype vehicle makes its way — with the driver's seat comfortably swiveled 180 degrees to face backwards.

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi film, but this is Mercedes-Benz’s vision of the future — the year 2030 to be precise. The F 015 concept is quite literally a living room on wheels. Feel like driving? Swivel your chair and take control of the steering wheel that folds neatly away when not in use. Feel like working, relaxing, or talking? Swivel back around and face your fellow passengers; the car will continue to drive you to your destination. In Mercedes purview, life in the future is no longer about speed, but relaxation and the luxury of time.

While the F 015 is still a prototype, and not yet robust enough to make highway trips like over self-driving test cars, the approach to the design of the vehicle is straight from the pages of Steve Jobs. “Autonomous vehicles make sense because of the increased emphasis on the interaction between occupants," says Koert Groeneveld, head of research and development communications at Merecedes-Benz. "The cities of the future will be bigger, more densely packed and life will be more hectic. Time and private space will become a luxury.”

Inside the Mercedes-Benz F 015

It’s not only how the car impacts and interacts with its passengers, but how the car interacts with the outside world. LEDs in the front and back of the car flash words like “STOP” and “GO” across what would normally feature headlights and taillights. It is polite to a fault, insisting that pedestrians proceed first, projecting a laser outlined crosswalk in front of the car and instructing them verbally to “please cross,” tracking their movement across the field as they go. Mercedes notes that the windows are covered in a subtle dot pattern to keep people from seeing in, but which also limits visibility out.

Mercedes-Benz F 015 in San Francisco

Carriage doors open to allow easy access to the spacious interior. Seats swivel to welcome you inside and then swivel back to center when the doors are closed, a rolling silver cocoon isolating you from the outside world. Anyone in the car can become the “conductor,” choosing the interior look, feel, and speed of the car as it moves along. Slide a mark along a linear gauge and you can speed or slow the car. Change the scenery on the screens around you to Paris and the Louvre or abstract representations of the outside world by touching the screen and making a choice for your bubbles of virtual reality. The extreme soapbar physical design of the F 015 is centered on what Mercedes-Benz calls “soft transitions” — an easing back into reality, or out of it, as you move from your autonomous vehicle to your next destination.

The F 015 we conducted was solely electric-powered, and followed a GPS-plotted course showing what Mercedes imagines a typical interaction between car and human would look like. The driver summons the car from its parking spot using an app on their phone and waits patiently while the car comes to them (a feature Tesla has promised with the next major software update of the Model S sedan.) Then he or she climbs in and is whisked (albeit in this test case, slowly) away to their destination where the car then parks itself until the next time it is called.

It's obvious the technology that Mercedes-Benz has employed to create both the S500 Intelligent Drive and the F 015 prototype is phenomenal. The idea of auto autopilot for urban driving is incredibly appealing, and driving a car via smartphone feels like a Star Trek-level fantasy finally coming to life. But I'm not sure whether to feel inspired, scared, or both.

That world of 2030 seems implicitly dystopian, where luxury means isolation. In this vision, drivers and passengers are surrounded by an augmented reality of their own choosing — a world in which the car communicates with the outside world, and humans don’t. The other way of looking toward 2030 would see time as the precious commodity. Those who can afford it can find a space to freely do what they like, and not worry over the city-driving dullness of steering, accelerating, watching for pedestrians or braking.

In 15 to 20 years, do we become so wrapped up our own worlds that we won't be interested in interacting with the outside world? Will we not want to make eye contact with a passerby, let alone wave them to cross? Will we become so busy and self-important that we have to send the car to pick up the kids at school — as some overscheduled parents have already enlisted Uber drivers to do?

The F 015 presents a fascinating look at the future of driving and the almost-there technology involved in making it work. We are either moving toward a more crowded, isolated, self-centered world, or one that’s greener, safer and more connected than ever. We’ll just have to wait a few more years to find out — fewer than we realize.

By: Abigail Bassett

March 24, 2015

In response to a demand that it pay $5 million and cast several artists in the hit TV series Empire, Fox filed a trademark lawsuit on Monday seeking a declaration that it has every right to use the show’s title.

A preemptive lawsuit holds risks as the “Blurred Lines” verdict demonstrates, but on the other hand, Fox might wish to avoid another Glee, which ran into trademark trouble in the U.K. with a judge there basically allowing the owner of a comedy club to assert dominion.

In this instance, Fox is suing Empire Distribution, Inc., which is identified as a California corporation that has not only come forward asserting rights to “Empire,” “Empire Distribution” and “Empire Recordings,” but has also in a demand letter claimed trademark dilution by tarnishment via a series that features “a label run by a homophobic drug dealer prone to murdering his friends.”

Fox, of course, sees its Lee Daniels-created show about a feuding entertainment-industry family differently, especially now that it’s a massive success, attracting 16.7 million same-day viewers for its season finale. The show has also spawned a soundtrack album that debuted on top of the Billboard 200 chart.

The defendant might be in the music business, but Fox portrays Empire Distribution as commercially weak with a Google search for “empire record label” not resulting in defendant’s website until the seventh page. To get there, Google users will be flipping past others who have used the mark. “There is even a film called Empire Records,” remarks the complaint filed on behalf of Fox by attorney Marvin Putnam in California federal court.

Fox also says that the defendant never applied for a federal trademark registration on “Empire,” and after applying for “Empire Distribution” for non-electronic music recordings in January 2014, the defendant was initially denied out of a likelihood of confusion. A separate trademark registration covering electronic delivery of music recordings is pending.

Empire Distribution has hired a lawyer and sent demands.

The first claim is said to have come on February 16 with an $8 million demand to resolve potential trademark infringement and dilution claims.

The second came on March 6.

"This letter, again authored by outside counsel, reiterated defendant’s trademark claims, asserted a new claim for unfair competition, and gave Fox three ‘options’ to settle the claims made against it," states the complaint. "(1) Fox could pay $5 million and include artists that defendant represents as ‘regular guest stars’ on the fictional television series Empire; (2) Fox could pay defendant $8 million; or (3) Fox could stop using the word ‘Empire.’”

Fox won’t pay up. Instead, it’s suing to protect itself upon “a cloud over Fox’s intellectual property rights in the fictional television series Empire and the Soundtrack Music.”