STLR Link Roundup – August 6, 2013

Spies, Whistleblowers, and Computer Fraud

In a case with implications for national security, whistleblowing, and free press, Pfc. Bradley Manning was recently convicted by a military tribunal of six counts under the Espionage Act as well as a variety of other crimes for the leak of sensitive government information, including diplomatic cables, Afghan and Iraqi war logs, and a video of an American helicopter attack which killed a Reuters journalist. Among these crimes was one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Manning used the program, Wget, to download information from an internal government network which he was authorized to access; the prosecution argued that while Manning had authorized access to the computer network, Wget was unauthorized. In a decision that some criticized, Bradley was convicted under Section (a)(1) for knowingly exceeding authorized access on a computer. Bradley’s conviction has implications for whistleblowers in the future, specifically their use of information that they are authorized to access. The case also presents grave questions of American cybersecurity and the boundaries of government protection going forward.

India Speaks Out on Patent Rejections

After facing increasing pressure for its rejections of patent protection for several globally recognized and patented drugs, India’s government defended its actions by placing the blame on companies, such as Roche, which it views as not having followed correct procedures for procuring such protection. Most recently, India rejected Roche’s applications for patents related to its cancer therapy drug, Herceptin. Other high profile rejections include GSK’s Tykerb (a drug for fighting breast cancer) and Novartis’ Gleevec. While the failure to win patent protection creates inconsistencies in a company’s global patent protection, it also has implications for drug prices as well as the development of generic medications. For example, Indian companies have become well known for creating generics and selling them to developing nations at much lower costs than pharmaceuticals who had patented their products.

CEO Michael Dell Hopeful of Taking Dell Private for Future Restructuring

The very public battle for private control of Dell Inc. may soon end. In response to a takeover bid from Carl Icahn, Michael Dell’s proposal to take the company private appears more viable than ever. After negotiating for months, Dell’s $25 billion buy-out proposal has finally been able to get Dell’s special committee to agree to changing the voting structure such that outstanding shares which do not vote are not counted as no votes and to delay the voting date, both of which increase Dell’s likelihood of success in securing a majority of the minority vote to push the deal through. In exchange, Dell has agreed to a special dividend as well as a price increase to his bid. Carl Icahn – an activist shareholder with an 8.7% stake in Dell – protested that even Dell’s current proposal was undervaluing the company. Icahn is suing Dell to prevent the changes to voting structure and voting date. In addition, Icahn is urging that investors pass on Dell’s deal to take his offer instead.

In vitro…beef?

Since Dolly, the increasing technical dexterity of genetics researchers has helped expand the field from cloning to stem cells to the creation of in-vitro organ systems. This week, researchers in London have unveiled a first ever burger created from stem cells. The meat patty was created from strands of muscle fiber grown from stem cells and lacked any fat. While creating protein in a lab may help reduce the toll of livestock on the environment as well as have implications for global climate change, lab-grown burgers still have a long path to commercial viability: the current product costs $320,000. Any commercial success would have to first overcome the production costs as well as the currently dry flavor.

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