Nation roundup for December 19


Leahy is sworn in as pro tempore

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was sworn in Tuesday as president pro tempore of the Senate.

As the longest serving Democrat now in the Senate, Leahy moved to third place in the line of presidential succession, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner.

Biden swore Leahy in as the successor to Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye in the Senate post. Inouye, who also chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, died Monday at age 88. A vase of white roses was on Inouye’s desk on the Senate floor.

“I can’t tell you how much it pains me,” Leahy said before being sworn in. “He was one of the greatest members of this body ever to have served, and a dear friend to so many of us.”

Leahy is expected to succeed Inouye as chairman of the appropriations panel. The 72-year-old Leahy is the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is expected to take over from Leahy as chairman of the Judiciary panel, a move that could boost the prospects for congressional action on gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school slayings. Feinstein has promised to reintroduce the expired federal ban on assault rifles.Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is expected to become chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, replacing Feinstein on that pane.

Facebook ‘likes’ are guiding stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook isn’t just for goofy pictures and silly chatter. Whether shoppers know it or not, their actions online help dictate what’s in stores during this holiday season.

After polling customers on the social media site, Macy’s decided to carry denim jeans in bright neon hues rather than pastels. Wal-Mart for the first time decided to let customers vote on which toys they want discounted. And to better plan orders for the decorative flags she sells, a small business owner in Mississippi is running a contest that encourages customers to chime in about how they’re decorating their homes this winter.

The impact of social media on a company’s bottom line is tough to quantify. But during the holiday shopping season, a roughly two-month period when retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue, stores are uncovering a valuable use for all the seemingly useless online muttering: market research.

The result is that whenever folks press the “like” button to give their seal of approval for a particular company’s page or make a comment on how much they like the leather boots they just bought, they’re helping retailers make decisions about what products to stock up on, what to play up on the sales floor and what promotions to offer online.

NRC is critical of Japanese company

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Japanese company that manufactured the troubled steam generators at the San Onofre nuclear power plant might be looking for fixes with the wrong test equipment, federal regulators disclosed.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report found that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries failed to verify that more than 1,000 tubes being used in a generator mock-up to explore potential repairs matched specifications for tubing installed in the sidelined California generators.

Excessive wear to tubing that carries radioactive water has been at the heart of problems at San Onofre, which hasn’t produced electricity since January, after the plant was abruptly shut down after a tube break released a trace of radiation.

The findings come as the agency plans to question officials from operator Southern California Edison Tuesday about the company’s proposal to restart one of the hobbled twin reactors.

Judge won’t ban Samsung phones

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge late Monday rejected Apple Inc.’s demands that its chief rival in the more than $100 billion global smartphone market cease selling models a jury recently found illegally used Apple technology.

The immediate impact of the ruling means that Samsung can continue to sell three of the older-generation smartphones still on U.S. shelves that a San Jose jury in August found ripped off technology Apple used to create its iPhone.

The jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion after it found the South Korean titan “infringed” several of Apple’s patents in creating 26 products — three of which are still being sold in the United States.

U.S District Judge Lucy Koh noted that Samsung claims to have “worked around” using different technology than the Apple patents found to have been infringed such as the iPhone’s popular “pinch to zoom” feature.

And even if that’s a false claim, the judge ruled, Apple’s demands to yank the Samsung products from U.S. shelves and bar future sales was too broad of a punishment in devices built with technology backed by hundreds of patents each.

“The phones at issue in this case contain a broad range of features, only a small fraction of which are covered by Apple’s patents,” Koh wrote in her ruling issued late Monday night. “Though Apple does have some interest in retaining certain features as exclusive to Apple, it does not follow that entire products must be forever banned from the market because they incorporate, among their myriad features, a few narrow protected functions.”

The judge also concluded that the public would be harmed if she ordered a ban.

“Though the phones do contain infringing features, they contain a far greater number of non-infringing features to which consumers would no longer have access if this Court were to issue an injunction,” the judge wrote. “The public interest does not support removing phones from the market when the infringing components constitute such limited parts of complex, multi-featured products.”

At the same time, the judge also rejected Samsung’s call for a new trial because of alleged juror misconduct.

Samsung had alleged jury foreman Velvin Hogan committed misconduct for failing to disclose that his former employer Seagate Technology filed a lawsuit against him in 1993. Samsung later acquired nearly 10 percent of Seagate.

Samsung alleged after the trial that Hogan had a bias against it because of its ownership stake in Seagate, a Northern California-based maker of computer hard drives.

The judge said Samsung had the ability to investigate whether Hogan was biased toward Samsung before trial started because the company’s lawyer possessed Hogan’s bankruptcy file, which included the lawsuit. She said Samsung objected too late to Hogan’s joining the jury.

“What changed between Samsung’s initial decision not to pursue questioning, or investigation of Mr. Hogan, and Samsung’s later decision to investigate was simple: the jury found against Samsung, and made a very large damages award,” the judge ruled.

Koh still has before her several other legal demands from both companies. Apple is seeking to increase the award while Samsung is asking for a decrease in damages — or a new trial.

Samsung argues that it didn’t receive a fair trial in San Jose, about 12 miles from Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters.

Apple in turn argues that the jury didn’t award it enough damages and is seeking more than $100 million above the $1.05 billion.

The judge earlier this month at a hearing seemed inclined to trim Apple’s award by tens of millions of dollars after concluding the jury erred in its calculations, though she didn’t specify an amount or a time she would rule.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet declined comment Monday night. Samsung officials didn’t respond to email and phone queries placed late Monday night.

Adding to the legal tangle, Apple filed a second lawsuit earlier this year, alleging that Samsung’s newer products are unfairly using Apple’s technology. That’s set for trial in 2014. In addition, the two companies are locked in legal battles in several other countries.

Apple lawyer Harold McElhinny claimed earlier this year that Samsung “willfully” made a business decision to copy Apple’s iPad and iPhone, and he called the jury’s $1.05 billion award a “slap in the wrist.”

Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven has argued that Apple was trying to tie up Samsung in courts around the world rather than competing with it head-on.

Samsung recently shot passed Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker.

In the third quarter of 2012, Samsung sold 55 million smartphones to Apple’s 23.6 million sales worldwide, representing 32.5 percent of the market for Samsung compared with Apple’s 14 percent.

 

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