February 28, 2011 nº 1.012 - Vol. 9

"We can be knowledgeable with other men's knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom."

Michel de Montaigne

Insider's view: see how local concerns shape up the global world. Read the daily press review in Migalhas International.


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  • Top News

Congress takes up major change in patent law

The patent system hasn't changed much since 1952 when Sony was coming out with its first pocket-size transistor radio, and bar codes and Mr. Potato Head were among the inventions patented. Now, after years of trying, Congress may be about to do something about that. The Senate is taking up the Patent Reform Act, which would significantly overhaul a 1952 law and, supporters say, bring the patent system in line with 21st century technology of biogenetics and artificial intelligence. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hails it as "an important step toward maintaining our global competitive edge." Congress has been trying for well over a decade to rewrite patent law, only to be thwarted by the many interested parties — multinational corporations and small-scale inventors, pharmaceuticals and Silicon Valley companies — pulling in different directions. Prospects for passing a bill now, however, are promising. The Senate bill is sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Hatch and another top Republican on the panel, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. The committee voted 15-0 in early February to send the legislation to the full Senate.
The overhaul is long overdue. It now takes the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about three years to process a patent application. There are about 1.2 million applications pending — 700,000 waiting consideration and another 500,000 somewhere in the process. The patent office says it received about 483,000 applications in 2009 and granted about 192,000 patents. "Hundreds of thousands of patent applications are stalled" at the patent office, Leahy said. "Among those is the application for the next great invention." The most sweeping, and controversial, change is the transition from a first-to-invent application system to a first-to-file system that is used by every other industrialized nation, but has been opposed by independent inventors. It comes with an enhanced grace period to protect inventors who publicly disclose their inventions before seeking patents.

Tobacco companies file lawsuit against FDA advisory panel

Two tobacco companies filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to enjoin a recent opinion by the agency's advisory committee due to conflicts of interest. The suit, filed by Lorillard, Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company seeks to prevent the FDA from relying on a forthcoming recommendation on the use of menthol in cigarettes. The suit alleges that three members of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, Doctors Neil Benowitz, Jack Henningfield and Jonathan Samet, have made thousands of dollars as expert witnesses in litigation against tobacco product manufacturers and have "continuing financial relationships" with pharmaceutical companies that make smoking-cessation products. The FDA is not required to comply with the advisory committee's recommendation, but the tobacco companies fear any ban on menthol cigarettes. The recommendation is expected to be released by March 23, 2011.

Court rules $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris may be reopened

A three-judge panel for the Illinois Court of Appeals for the Fifth District on Thursday unanimously decided to reopen a $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris involving deceptive marketing practices in light of a favorable 2008 US Supreme Court ruling on the subject matter. The class represented in the lawsuit claims that Philip Morris violated state law when it misled consumers into thinking that "light" cigarettes were safer and contained less tar. The plaintiffs allege that the light cigarettes actually contain a more toxic form of tar than the original brand. The trial court originally found on behalf of the plaintiffs, but the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2005 stating that Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law due to the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allowed the use of "light" on cigarette packaging. The US Supreme Court in 2006 affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling and the case was dismissed. However, in 2008 the US Supreme Court, in a case concerning the marketing of "light" cigarettes, ruled that state consumer protection laws can be used to hold cigarette companies liable. A lawyer for Philip Morris calls the claims "meritless" and says that the court's ruling was based on a statute of limitations and not the merits of the case.

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  • MiMIC Journal

China police block protests

The Chinese authorities have put on a show of force in Beijing and Shanghai. They focused on city center locations where activists had urged people to gather to show their opposition to government policies on Sunday. The appeal for people to come onto the streets, for the second week in a row, originated on a website outside China.

LinkedIn service resumes in China

Business networking site LinkedIn says it is back online in China, a day after access was blocked by the authorities there.

Alibaba's fraud scandal may become opportunity for Google, Global Sources

Alibaba.com Ltd. , owner of China's largest online-commerce site, has been the go-to marketplace for Western companies seeking gaskets, garden gnomes and gelatin. Disclosures that its salespeople helped defraud buyers may send business to rivals Google Inc. and Global Sources Ltd.

China drops death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes

The standing committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC) on Friday amended the national criminal law to remove 13 offenses from the list of crimes subject to the death penalty. Those removed are non-violent economic crimes and include smuggling cultural relics, precious metals and rare animals; fraudulent activities with financial bills and letters of credit; fraudulent export tax refunds; teaching of crime-committing methods; and robbing ancient cultural ruins. The amendment also restricts death sentences issued to persons over 75 and is the first amendment of death penalty crimes since 1979. Notably, some economic crimes, including corruption, were not removed from the list, and the death penalty enjoys wide public support in China. The amendment, which will take effect on May 1, is the latest move by the Chinese government to reduce the number of death sentences ordered by the country's courts.


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  • Brief News

World applies pressure on Gaddafi

Foreign ministers from around the world are gathering in Geneva to discuss their response to the mounting humanitarian crisis in Libya.

UN Security Council unanimously imposes sanctions on Libya

The UN Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, marking the first unanimous referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in UN history. Resolution 1970 also received support from Libya's delegation itself, which renounced Qaddafi on Friday. Libya's UN Ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam, who use to be a close confidant of Qaddafi, stated that the resolution could help end the "fascist regime" in the north African country. The sanctions include an arms embargo, the freezing of assets, and a travel ban on 16 Libyan leaders. Although Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, the Security Council voted that it should nonetheless be subject to its investigation.

Oil price up again on Saudi fears

Brent crude oil price rises above $114 on fears unrest might spread, including to top producer Saudi Arabia.

Brazil judge blocks Amazon Belo Monte dam

A Brazilian judge has blocked plans to build a huge hydro-electric dam in the Amazon rainforest because of environmental concerns. Federal judge Ronaldo Desterro said environmental requirements to build the Belo Monte dam had not been met. He also barred the national development bank, BNDES, from funding the project. The dam is a cornerstone of President Dilma’s plans to upgrade Brazil's energy infrastructure.

Brazil firms post record profits

Brazil's two biggest companies, Petrobras and Vale, post record profits, in the latest sign of Brazil's growing economic might.

Egypt considers term limits, presidential nomination reform

The Egyptian military's judicial committee on Saturday proposed a constitutional amendment that would impose an eight-year term limit on the presidency in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak. The proposed constitutional amendments also make it easier for a candidate to obtain a nomination. The existing Egyptian Constitution required the support of 250 elected officials, whereas the proposed changes will call for the signatures of just 30 parliamentarians. The changes will make it more difficult for a president to maintain the state of emergency laws that Mubarak kept in place for nearly 30 years. The committee was appointed by Egypt's military, which is running the country until an election is held in six months. The military council stated that it will issue a snap referendum next month on the proposed constitutional amendments and plans to have the vote complete by the end of March.

King's Speech crowned at Oscars

British film The King's Speech is crowned best picture at the Oscars and wins a further three awards including best actor for Colin Firth.

Product placement ban on British TV lifted

Paid-for references to products and services are now permitted for the first time in shows produced in the UK, including soaps and one-off dramas. The first product will be a Nescafe coffee machine on ITV1's This Morning. In the US pay millions of dollars to place their products in films and TV programs.

Lehman's Marsal, after $11 billion defeat, faces difficult path

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bryan Marsal , after losing a court battle to recover an alleged $11 billion "windfall" from Barclays Plc , may face difficulties if he decides to appeal to a higher court, lawyers said.

Spain court allows Guantanamo torture investigation to continue

The Spanish National Court on Friday agreed to continue investigating allegations of a Moroccan man who claims that he was tortured while detained at Guantanamo Bay. Article 23.4 of the Ley Organica del Poder Judicial (LOPJ) authorizes Spanish courts to hear certain types of international cases, but requires that the case have a "relevant connection" to Spain, following a limitation placed on universal jurisdiction in 2009. The court said it was competent to take the case because the complainant, Lahcen Ikassrien, who was held at Guantanamo from 2001 to 2005, had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) endorsed the court's decision to continue the investigation

South Korea charges 5 captured Somali pirates

South Korean prosecutor Jeong Jeom-Shik announced Friday that five Somali pirates captured in January have been charged with six offenses, including attempted murder, maritime robbery and kidnapping. The attempted murder charge carries with it a possible life sentence. The pirates were captured during the Samho Jewelry raid last month, when South Korean commandos killed eight other pirates while rescuing all 21 crew members. Prosecutors believe that this is the same group of pirates responsible for hijacking another Samho ship, the Samho Dream, last year.

New York appeals court allows surviving same-sex spouse to inherit estate

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department on Thursday upheld a lower court decision allowing the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage to inherit the deceased spouse's estate. Kenneth Ranftle and Craig Leiby were married legally in Canada in 2008 after more than 20 years together. Ranftle died a few months later in New York, leaving most of his multi-million dollar estate to Leiby. Ranftle's brother challenged the validity of the couple's marriage and argued that recognition of the marriage violated New York public policy.

SEC charges five in "portfolio pumping" scheme

A U.S. regulator charged two financial firms and three individuals with running a fraudulent "portfolio pumping" scheme to manipulate prices of small U.S. stocks, generating at least $63.7 million of illegal proceeds. The SEC said Homm, Ficeto and Heatherington took several thinly-traded microcap stocks public through so-called "reverse mergers," and then sold shares at inflated prices to eight now defunct offshore hedge funds managed by Absolute Capital Management Holdings Ltd, a London-based company run by Homm. According to the SEC, the manipulation let Homm inflate the hedge funds' performance and value by at least $440 million.

Starbucks wins Kraft appeal over coffee deal

A federal appeals court on Friday removed the final legal obstacle to Starbucks Corp ending its coffee distribution agreement with Kraft Foods Inc on March 1.

  • Weekly Magazine Review

Understanding pain. Healing the Hurt. Finding new ways to treat pain

After Gaddafi. How does a country recover from 40 years of destruction by an unchallenged tyrant?

Business Week
USA Inc.: Red, White, and Very Blue. Mary Meeker says that if the U.S. were a corporation, it would be sick—but fixable. Ideas for solving the U.S.'s long-term fiscal mess.

The Economist
Blood and oil. The West has to deal with tyrants, but it should do so on its own terms.

Der Spiegel
"Bild" - Die Brandstifter.

  • Daily Press Review

Egypt ex-interior minister 'to go on trial March 5'
Asharq Al-Awsat, Pan-Arab daily, London, England

World leaders tell Gaddafi to quit
Egyptian Gazette, English-language, Cairo, Egypt

Barak: Assad ready to consider Israel-Syria peace deal
Haaretz, Liberal daily, Tel Aviv, Israel

Renewed Call for Judicious Consumption
Iran Daily, English-language, reformist, Tehran, Iran

FRANCE: New foreign minister named in latest Cabinet reshuffle
France 24, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France

Wikileaks vs the world: you couldn't make it up!
Spiked, (Alternative Internet Magazine), London, England

Libya: Barack Obama calls on Col Gaddafi to step down
Telegraph The, Conservative daily, London, England

UN Security Council slaps sanctions on Libya's Gadhafi
China Post, English-language daily, Taipei, Taiwan

NCP MLA accused of rape arrested in Mumbai
India Express, News portal, Mumbai, India

PKFZ: Chan Kong Choy charged with cheating
Malaysian Star, Online news portal, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia

Canada imposes additional Libyan sanctions
Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Fernandez to meet Monday with Haiti presidential candidate
Dominican Today, Independent daily, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

ARGENTINA: Proposal to Go after Clients of Sex Trafficking Victims
IPS Latin America, International cooperative of journalists, Rome, Italy

Libya crisis won't affect Ghana's petroleum supply - Veep
GhanaWeb, Online news portal, Amsterdam, Netherlands


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