Thursday, October 23, 2014

Legal Geek No. 27: Does Settling Patent Lawsuits Open Door for Class Action Liability?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the new fad in class action lawsuits called "pay for delay" antitrust suits and whether these lawsuits will chill the overwhelming desire companies have to settle patent infringement and invalidity lawsuits.


About Nexium 24HR
(Courtesy the AstraZenica website 

Back in 2008 AstraZenica was embroiled in patent litigation over the wildly popular heartburn medicine called Nexium. Various generic drug makers wanted to invalidate the patents on the drug in order to jump into the lucrative market well before these patents would expire in late 2014. However, as many patent lawsuits do, this case settled before a final disposition on terms not disclosed to the public.

Thus, the exact terms of the agreement between Astrazenica and other companies like Ranbaxy were not known. But there's at least some evidence that this agreement included a large payment of money to Ranbaxy for the promise to drop the lawsuit and not make a generic version of Nexium until the middle of 2014. Now these former competitors in court are forced to defend together against a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts claiming that this payment and delay of the generic release is in violation of the Sherman Act.

We've briefly discussed class action suits before on this segment, and the biggest hurdle was cleared a year ago when the class of consumers who could sue was certified by the court. The court is now hearing oral arguments in the case this week, and the plaintiff drug stores and consumers are painting a picture of unfair gaming of the patent system by AstraZenica paying for a delay in the generic drug release, thereby artificially keeping prices on Nexium inflated for the final five or six years of patent coverage.
 
These pay for delay suits are a relatively new fad brought on by recent Federal Circuit and Supreme Court case law. As applied to the patent context, it seems to imply that companies like Ranbaxy who challenge the validity of a patent cannot drop that suit because they must serve the interests of fair market competition and consumer protection from negotiated monopolies. But is that a good thing for the patent system or judicial system?

If a duty to the consumers is created by filing and pursuing a lawsuit or claim to invalidate a patent, then any settlement or payment could end up leading to a claim (no matter how true) of pay for delay conspiracies...which means more patent litigations will fill court dockets for longer periods of time rather than being settled. In addition, patents are all about exclusivity and the right to monopolize innovations for a short period of time before it becomes public domain, so it seems strange that merely settling a case about patents could give rise to a claim of antitrust violations.

Perhaps the recent advent of post grant review proceedings for patents, which cannot be withdrawn or stopped once initiated, will help alleviate this problem by enabling challenges to a patent's validity without risking a settlement that could lead to claims of antitrust conspiracy later. 

Bottom Line: efficient and quick settlement of patent lawsuits reduces a major drain on the court system, and if this pay for delay theory works for the class action lawsuit against Astrazenica, that's bad news for the marketplace generally as more companies will tie up resources fighting long battles in court. Nobody wins in that situation except the lawyers, and take it from a lawyer, that's not what you want to happen.


Do you have a question? Send it in!

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Character Insight No. 117: Corporal R. Ryan

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Corporal R. Ryan, a recurring character appearing on Enterprise.
  
 Jason Collins, Countdown
("Why is it the enlisted never look too happy to be around?") 

Ryan is one of the enlisted crewmembers who is part of the MACO force assigned to Enterprise during the Delphic Expanse mission. As a result, he shows up on many critical away missions and as a guard on multiple episodes, although his role is nearly always a background one.

The MACO, or Military Assault Command Operations, had access to weapons three or more years advanced than the Enterprise crew, keeping them on the cutting edge for future combat. Thus, Ryan is a sniper who has access to the newest toys, including better scopes and particle rifles. He uses this sniper rifle to shoot a mine foreman on a planet where Captain Archer needs to be rescued. That mission succeeds, as do many when this character contributes to them. It is interesting that this shooting role was written for the leader of the MACO's Major Hayes, but this was reconfigured during filming to give Ryan the spotlight in his first of a dozen appearances over 4 seasons.

His gunmanship comes in handy when Captain Archer needs to retake the ship. This includes kicking the Triannons off the Enterprise after they had taken over, and defending the Enterprise from a Sphere Builders invasion while the bridge crew is away on mission. Sometimes, he is just a simple security guard, holding unwanted visitors out of meetings and carting people like Arik Soong and Malcolm Reed to and from the brig. 

Having MACOs on board is a constant reminder that space exploration requires a strong military hand in the early days of Starfleet. Especially when conflicts arise like with the Xindi, these guys are the little known backbone that keeps the ship out of harm's way.

Ryan is one of the few recurring characters who makes more than 10 appearances while being played by two different actors. Both actors who played him are regular background actors, Jason Collins and Aaron White. Collins is more of a television actor, but he has appeared in the movies The Frozen Ground, National Treasure Book of Secrets, and Treevenge. Yes, TREEVENGE. White has not acted as much, but he did appear on the TV show 24 as well as in the recent movie Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie. This actor swapping can be a bit confusing when characters are a bit faceless without much personality, but it is a necessary evil of weekly episodic television sometimes for non-regular characters (who may have other acting gig or jobs).

We've covered similar small characters on this segment before like Engineer Alex, and guys like Corporal Ryan are good consistent background scenery for the most part. It would be nice to see some of these familiar faces develop more personality and character, like in the TNG episode lower decks, but it's hard enough to spread out sufficient time to an ensemble major crew let alone minor crew members. I guess that's what we have The Redshirt Diaries web show for!

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Character Insight No. 116: Michael Jonas

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Michael Jonas, a recurring character on Voyager who plays a key role in the first long storyline of Voyager, the Seska storyline.
  
 Michael jonas.jpg
("Put on your constipated serious face...good, good") 

Jonas was one of the Maquis fighters who served aboard the Val Jean under Chakotay's command until their crew became stranded with Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. He, like B'Elanna Torres, serves as an engineer after joining the ship. He turns out to be one of the harder crew members to bring over to the Starfleet side, and his desire to look out for himself almost ends up in disastrous consequences for the entire Voyager crew.

Jonas was close friends with another former Maquis Kurt Bendera, who died at the hands of the Kazon. Bendera's death was the straw that broke the camel's back in the attempt to get Jonas to fully integrate into Starfleet. Jonas blames Captain Janeway's policies for Kurt's death, which leads him to secretly open communications with Seska to negotiate takeover of the Voyager by the Kazon.

Jonas transmits details of Voyager's new transwarp technology after Tom Paris breaks the Warp 10 barrier. Tuvok detects these transmissions, which were ingeniously sent in the waste energy emitted from the propulsion systems and the power grid. But that doesn't fool him, so he and Tom Paris set forth on a secret agent plan to flush out the traitor and figure out who has turned against the Voyager. 

Quote: (from Investigations)
 

When Jonas sabotages the magnetic constrictors of the USS Technobabble for Seska, Paris and Tuvok put a plan in place to make it seem like Paris is also defecting from the crew. Seska takes the bait, pulling in Paris, who then turns on her and the Kazon to determine that Jonas is the traitor. Meanwhile, Neelix also comes to the same conclusion in his own investigations aboard Voyager and he ends up trapped in a struggle with Jonas in main engineering. Neelix wins the day though, as Jonas ends up falling into a plasma fire near the warp core, a fitting way for a traitor to go out.

Jonas is a necessary evil character to fill a gap early in the show, although it is a bit lazy to have Tuvok always be ready to foil the rogue Maquis plans. Seska and the Kazon are the first great villains in the Delta Quadrant, and Jonas holds a special memorable role in this storyline, even as a small bit character. That's more than can be said for many recurring characters. 

Raphael Sbarge played Jonas, and his acting career began as a little kid on Sesame Street when that show was brand new. He has also played in various movies like Independence Day and Pearl Harbor, and more recently in TV series like Once Upon A Time. He's also a prolific video game voice actor, appearing in Mass Effect and Everquest, among others.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Legal Geek No. 26: Are Smartwatches A Legal Problem?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we answer a listener question about whether new Smartwatches like Apple Watch and Google Wear will violate traffic laws regulating video screens in vehicles.


White AppleWatch with Screen.png
(Apple Watch, the sports band version, courtesy Apple.com 

Listener James T. on Twitter [@jthatcher79] asked whether the new smartwatches will violate second monitor laws like California's vehicle code section 27602. Let's take a look at this specific law and then the ramifications across the country.

The California law prohibits operation of a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, a video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a video signal for entertainment or business applications is operating and is located in the motor vehicle in front of the back side of the driver's seat, or located so as to be visible to the driver while driving. Exceptions to this rule include vehicle information displays, GPS displays, a mapping display, video feeds enhancing or supplementing the view around the vehicle such as back up cameras, and equipment that has an interlock device or is otherwise configured to disable the video screen for all non-exception uses during operation of the vehicle.

When parsing this law, the initial question is whether a smartwatch will be considered a means similar to a TV receiver or video screen for displaying a video signal for entertainment or business applications. Considering smartphones and similar devices have been interpreted as covered by these types of laws, the answer is most likely yes. Indeed, this California code section made national news a year ago for generating the first traffic violation tickets to people wearing Google Glass while driving. Its' hard to imagine the revenue-generating traffic cops will pass on the opportunity to bulk up a ticket fine with extra violations for smartwatch wearers.
 
The second question is whether smartwatches fall into any of the exceptions to the rule. Clearly the key question will be whether the smartwatch is configured to disable all use except for mapping and GPS. At this point, there is no indication this will be the case, which means wearing smartwatches (by the letter of the broad California law) likely violates this traffic law.

Just like with Google Glass, this isn't exactly what the law was written to cover. So expect any early tickets that do happen to be challenged in court, which will perhaps lead to more clear legislation regarding whether smartwatch manufacturers have to include interlock or similar features disabling the device in a moving vehicle. The law always takes a while to catch up to new technologies, and this is no different. 

But for now, the Bottom Line is, at least in my view, smartwatches could lead to traffic ticket violations under California code 27602.

Many states have similar laws outlawing use of non-hands-free cell phones or television and video monitors. So while each state law is different and requires different analysis, the previous discussion of the California law likely applies equally in many states. So for now at this very early stage of the legal process, buyer beware...you may want to slip the smartwatch off should you get pulled over for speeding.

Do you have a question? Send it in, and just like James, yours might get featured right here!

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Character Insight No. 115: Ro Laren

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Ro Laren, a recurring character on TNG who almost became a major character on DS9.
  
 Ro Laren.jpg
("Nose ridges and earrings, yes indeed, it's a TNG era alien via forehead of the week") 

Ro grew up during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, which means she spent most of her childhood in internment and refugeee camps. Her most traumatic moment was being forced to watch Cardassians question and torture her father to death, an incident that taught her not even her father could protect her. She felt ashamed to be a Bajoran in view of this weakness, and she ran away from her culture for a time before coming back to embrace it, once she was done grieving her father.

Ro decided to serve in Starfleet, and despite good accolades at the Academy, her first assignment results in a court martial. Her decision to disobey orders on an away mission led to the deaths of 8 crew mates while serving on the USS Wellington. Thus, when she comes aboard the Enterprise to help with a Bajoran terrorist capture mission, she is only at the rank of ensign and has been just released from a prison sentence. Needless to say, Captain Picard and Commander Riker don't trust her initially.

However, Ro quickly showed her potential guiding the Enterprise through this terrorist capture mission. Captain Picard decides he cannot let this promising young officer go, so she appears in several other episodes in the final three seasons of TNG. The most notable of these is The Next Phase, an episode where Ro and Geordi La Forge get sent out of phase by new Romulan cloaking technology and they have to find a way to inform the rest of the crew that they are not dead and also about the Romulan threat.

Quote: Ro Laren: I was raised with Bajoran beliefs. And I even followed some of the practices. But I never really believed in a life after death. And then suddenly I was dead... and there was this other life. And that made me feel like I'd been pretty arrogant, to discount everything I'd been taught, you know? Now I don't know what to believe.
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Hmm... Well, maybe we should develop our own interphase device. If it can teach Ro Laren humility, it can do anything.


Ro is later assigned to infiltrate the Maquis. In the process of gaining the trust of the Maquis, she again found her loyalties torn because her heritage led her to be sympathetic to the Maquis cause, which is opposed by the Cardassians. She ends up defecting from the Enterprise, with an apology to Picard for betraying his trust.

Quote: Ro Laren: Could you tell Captain Picard something for me?
Commander William T. Riker: Of course, what is it?
Ro Laren: Tell him I'm sorry.


Ro Laren is a good late-season character because she was designed as a sharp-edged character to contrast from the well-known main characters. Her personal backstory lends itself to good stories about her path to redemption and acceptance of her cultural heritage, even when it doesn't align with her Starfleet mentors.

It is also interesting that the character of Ro Laren was slated to be a main character on DS9, but this role was turned down by actress Michelle Forbes. While it would have been fun to see another character from TNG develop more like Miles O'Brien did, we still received a compelling alternate character when Kira Nerys was plugged into the role Ro Laren was to be in.

Michelle Forbes played Ro, and she has had recent roles on television shows like 24, True Blood, and Battlestar Galactica. She can also be seen in the upcoming Hunger Games movie, The Mockingjay Part 1.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Legal Geek No. 25: Mandatory Phone Kill Switches?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at a new law signed into effect in California last month and how it could make cell phones more secure than ever.



(Lost Mode, courtesy Apple.com 

California lawmakers enacted a new law which forces all smartphone manufacturers to provide automatically enabled Kill Switch technology on all phones sold after July 1, 2015. This Kill Switch technology is like the Activation Lock on Apple products, closely related to the Find my iPhone features. These Kill Switches enable an owner of a phone to remotely lock down and "brick" the phones, erasing all data and making the phone unusable.

The primary goal is deterring theft, as upwards of 70% of all robbery and theft crimes in bigger cities like San Francisco are related to smartphones. The resale market is so lucrative on these products and they have become so ubiquitous that it should come as no surprise this is the latest consumer product to get a lot of attention from thieves. But much like technological advances used to make cars harder to steal, it's only a matter of time before legislation and technology also secures this type of personal asset from thieves.

The early results speak for themselves, as iPhone theft in places like New York City have dropped 17-20% following the addition of the automatic Activation Lock feature.
 
The most important part of the law is that the phones must have this Kill Switch functionality enabled upon purchase, even if the option to opt-out is provided. If you've purchased an iPhone 6, you've already seen this change. Most consumers will not take the time to opt out, which means an extra layer of security will be present on almost all phones on the market in California within a year or two. That should slow the rate of violent crime for this particular type of consumer product.

California is the biggest market in the country, so what happens there will likely also cause phone manufacturers to adopt those standards nationwide (whether or not the other states also pass similar legislation). About the only party that opposes these types of laws are phone insurance companies that stand to lose significant market share if phones are more secure and less subject to loss/theft claims being required. 

Much like the Delaware data destruction law covered a couple weeks ago on this segment, this is the type of pro-consumer law that benefits us all. Kudos to California for helping advance this safety technology in the phone field. 

Bottom Line: Less robberies and thefts mean a more secure society, and everybody wins in that scenario. That's a rarity in lawmaking, so enjoy it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Character Insight No. 114: Brunt

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Brunt, one of the many highly powerful Ferengi making multiple appearances on Deep Space Nine.
  
 Brunt portrait.jpg
("Is that a Dominion spy?") 

Brunt is a liquidator for the Ferengi Commerce Authority, which is basically the IRS on steroids thanks to the stringent Rules of Acquisition all Ferengi businessmen subject themselves to. He first appears as an investigator working to punish Quark's mother for being a female making profit, and then to investigate Quark for causing a worker strike at his bar.

He finally is able to revoke Quark's business license for breaking a contract with the FCA, but the story did not end there for this micro-managing FCA agent. Instead, Brunt then tasks himself with bringing down Grand Nagus Zek to try and make himself the new leader of the Ferengi universe. Of course, Quark foils these plans because he can't bear to work with Brunt as a Grand Nagus, and also because Zek is a friend of Ferengi women's rights, important to Quark's mother.

Quote: "I want you back in business. It gives me an opportunity to keep my eye on you, because one day you are going to make a mistake, and on that day, you're going to lose more than your business license." (from Ferengi Love Songs).

But Brunt temporarily gets his way after the FCA deposes Zek following his bold reforms to give equal rights to Ferengi women. Quark again gets the best of Brunt by convincing enough FCA commissioners to return Zek to his position, a move that makes Zek indebted to Quark and his family forever. Which eventually leads to Quark's brother Rom becoming Grand Nagus, but that's another story. Why this plot twist required a story of Quark becoming a woman is beyond me, but it's not as if the Ferengi are taken terribly serious to begin with in Star Trek.

Brunt did return to his job as a FCA liquidator following his failed attempts to become Grand Nagus. One would expect he returned to his paper-pushing bullying ways with the small amount of power granted by his original position. This character would be more interesting if it weren't for the whole Ferengi culture and storyline being so ridiculous. With that as the backdrop, he simply becomes an irritation that leads to dumb things like Quark with boobs. 

No, I take it back, an annoying inflexible tax man is never terribly interesting. At least, assuming the show writers don't surprise us (and a bully with delusions of grandeur is not surprising in this role).

Jeffrey Combs played Brunt, and he is likely better known for his role as Weyoun of the Dominion in this same series. He played nine different roles in all his Star Trek time, which ranks among the top five for recurring character actors, and he continues to do a lot of cartoon voice work now.

Until next time, live long and prosper...