Starbucks said it lost a final appeal in a trademark dispute with South Korean company Elpreya. The Supreme Court of Korea on Thursday dismissed...

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Starbucks said it lost a final appeal in a trademark dispute with South Korean company Elpreya.

The Supreme Court of Korea on Thursday dismissed the Seattle coffee company’s appeal of the Patent Court of Korea’s ruling on the case, which claimed the South Korean coffee-shop chain infringed its trademark, Starbucks said in an e-mailed statement.

“Although Starbucks is disappointed with the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling, the company respects the Korean highest court’s decision,” Starbucks said.

The South Korean company sells coffee it calls “Starpreya” in cups with a green concentric logo surrounding a woman’s face. The product is usually sold through its networks of roving trucks.

Starbucks opened its first South Korean shop in 1999 after signing a licensing contract in 1997 with Shinsegae, the operator of South Korea’s largest discount-store chain. The joint venture opened its 185th shop in South Korea on Dec. 12, according to the Web site of Starbucks Coffee Korea.

Costco Wholesale

Sex-bias suit wins class-action status

Costco Wholesale workers can sue the warehouse club for sex discrimination as a group, a federal judge in California said in a ruling that expands a gender-bias lawsuit to include more than 700 women.

A group lawsuit is appropriate because the three workers who originally sued in 2004 after they couldn’t get promoted to higher-paying management jobs demonstrated that their experiences were typical for female employees at the company, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel said in an order Thursday granting the suit class certification.

“The court finds that plaintiffs have presented strong evidence of a common culture at Issaquah-based Costco which disadvantages women,” Patel said in the ruling. She didn’t rule on the merits of the case.

Costco denies it discriminates and told Patel at a hearing in November that the experience of the three original plaintiffs wasn’t typical.

Redfin

Updated Web site uses Virtual Earth

Online real-estate broker Redfin will release a new version of its Web site today, using Microsoft’s Virtual Earth map platform.

Seattle-based Redfin had been using mapping technology based on government-provided imagery of Seattle and San Francisco, the two markets it serves, to help homebuyers explore neighborhoods over the Internet.

The company said Microsoft’s map platform will allow it to expand its geographic reach. Seattle-area listings, which cover King County, will now include Snohomish, Kitsap and Pierce counties.

Redfin said the new version also displays more real-estate data, including information about open houses and homeowner’s dues, and allows users to instant-message agents.

Nation and World

Equity Office

Possible rival bid boosts stock price

Shares in Equity Office Properties Trust rose modestly Thursday amid indications of a possible bidding war for the office real-estate investment trust, which already has agreed to a $19 billion buyout.

Media reports late Wednesday said an investment group led by hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management was preparing to top Blackstone Group’s offer for the Chicago-based office landlord.

Spokespeople for Cerberus, Equity Office and Blackstone Group declined comment.

Equity Office agreed in November to sell itself to an affiliate of private-equity firm Blackstone for about $19 billion, plus the assumption of $16 billion of debt. That would apparently make it the largest private-equity transaction ever, but analysts said the company could have gotten a higher price and have predicted a rival bid is likely.

Equity office owns 580 U.S. buildings totaling more than 108 million square feet in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Its properties include WorldWide Plaza in Manhattan, the Civic Opera building in Chicago and Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest tower.

Equity’s stock closed up 51 cents, or 1 percent, at $49.26.

Video games

Wii, Xbox lead PS3 in U.S. sales

Sales of Sony’s PlayStation 3 video-game console lagged behind rival Nintendo’s Wii during the U.S. holiday season after production glitches limited supplies. Sony’s sales missed some analysts’ estimates.

PlayStation 3, introduced Nov. 17 in the U.S., sold 687,300 copies in November and December, trailing 1.1 million for Wii, whose debut was two days later, according to data released Thursday by NPD Group.

Sony couldn’t meet demand for the $500 to $600 machines, giving up market share to the cheaper Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. It said last week it had shipped 1 million units from plants in Asia to the U.S. by Dec. 31.

NPD’s figures measure retail sales to consumers.

Microsoft, which began selling the Xbox 360 one year ago, sold 1.64 million machines in November and December. Wii costs $250 and Xbox 360 costs $300 to $400.

About 2.1 million PlayStation 2 units were sold for $130 each, leading all consoles.

After post-holiday shipments, PlayStation 3 consoles have been slower to leave store shelves than Nintendo’s Wii, said Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Aviation

AirTran appeals to rival’s investors

AirTran appealed directly to shareholders Thursday with a sweetened offer of about $345 million in cash and stock for rival Midwest Air after the regional carrier rebuffed its earlier unsolicited takeover bid.

AirTran Holdings, which owns the discount carrier AirTran Airways, raised its offer for Midwest Air Group by almost 18 percent.

Midwest said its board will evaluate the latest offer and make a recommendation to shareholders with 10 days.

Airtran’s renewed effort to buy Midwest Air comes only a day after US Airways raised its bid for Delta Air Lines by about 20 percent to $10.3 billion.

Delta had rejected the previous offer and opposed the takeover bid.

Financial

Private-equity funds set record

U.S. private-equity firms in 2006 smashed the previous fund-raising record in 2000 by a margin of 22 percent with a collective purse of $215.4 billion among 322 funds, according to a year-end tally released Thursday by Dow Jones Private Equity Analyst, an industry newsletter.

The year’s total surpassed the 2005 level by 33 percent.

Private equity includes buyout and corporate finance funds, venture capital, mezzanine funds and funds of funds.

“The robust fund-raising climate was buoyed by investors’ willingness to plunge ever-larger sums into this asset class as well as buyout firms pursuing bigger acquisitions at a faster pace,” said Jennifer Rossa, managing editor of The Private Equity Analyst.

Compiled from Bloomberg News, The Associated Press Dow Jones Newswires and Seattle Times business staff