And the Patent Goes To…… The First to File

by Emily Puchalski, UMN Law Student, MJLST Notes & Comments Editor

Thumbnail-Emily-Puchalski.jpgIn just about one month the most monumental provision of the America Invents Act (AIA) will take effect. As of March 16, 2013 patents will be awarded to the first to file rather than the first to invent. This first to file system will bring the United States in accord with many other countries of the world. However, it is important note that the first to invent rule will still apply to patent applications filed before March 16th 2013.

Many patent lawyers and their clients have already began thinking about what the first to file system will mean for the American patent system. For example, a group of patent attorneys have already outlined some strategies that could be employed by inventors and predictions for how the new system will operate. Patent lawyers are not the only ones thinking about what the new systems will look like. Universities, for example, which can derive significant revenues from the patented inventions of its faculty, have implemented strategies for dealing with the new system. The University of North Dakota, for example, has stressed that the changes in the law as of March 16th govern towards immediate disclosure of any invention to the school’s intellectual property office to make sure that it can obtain patent rights on the invention, if desired, by filing an application as soon as possible with the Patent and Trademark Office.

Despite the prominence of the first to file provision of the AIA, it is important to remember that the AIA has many other important provisions aimed at changing the American patent law system. The AIA has also significantly changed the review available after a patent has been granted. The AIA both strengthens existing review procedures and creates new ones as well. In her article published in Issue 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, “The Post-Grant Problem: America Invents Falling Short,” author Kayla Fossen provides an in-depth description of the post-grant review process under the America Invents Act. Fossen also takes a look at whether the new post-grant proceedings can effectuate change on the American patent system where patents are frequently invalidated in infringement litigation. Interestingly, Fossen proposes a pre-grant review process that could be used in addition to the post-grant proceedings under the America Invents Act to ensure that patents issued are strong enough to survive validity challenges in any infringement litigation. Even though March 16, 2013 will mark a big change in US patent law, it is important to evaluate the big changes that the America Invents Act has already made, one of them being post-grant review. Luckily, Fossen’s article does just that.


Time for a New Approach to Cyber Security?

by Kenzie Johnson, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Kenzie Johnson The recent announcements by several large news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Wall Street Journal reporting that they have been the victims of cyber-attacks have yet again brought cyber security into the news. These attacks reportedly all originated in China and were aimed at monitoring news reporting of Chinese issues. In particular, the New York Times announced that Chinese hackers persistently attacked their servers for a period of four months and obtained passwords for reporters and other Times employees. The Times reported that the commencement of the attack coincided with a story it published regarding mass amounts of wealth accumulated by the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

It is not only western news outlets that are the targets of recent cyber-attacks. Within the past weeks, the United States Department of Energy and Federal Reserve both announced that hackers had recently penetrated their servers and acquired sensitive information.

This string of high-profile cyber-attacks raises the need for an improved legal and response structure to deal with the growing threat of cyber-attacks. In the forthcoming Winter 2013 issue of Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, Susan W. Brenner discusses these issues in an article entitled “Cyber-Threats and the Limits of Bureaucratic Control.” Brenner discusses the nature, causes, and consequences of cyber-threats if left unchecked. Brenner also analyzes alternative approaches to the United States’ current cyber-threat control regime, criticizes current proposals for improvements to the current regime, and proposes alternative approaches. As illustrated by these recent cyber-attacks, analysis of these issues is becoming more important to protect sensitive government data as well as private entities from cyber-threats.


States Move to Implement Health Insurance Exchanges

by Brianna Rohne, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor

Thumbnail-Brianna-Rohne.jpgProponents of the Affordable Care Act breathed a collective sigh of relief in June 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the law in its decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. As Minnesota Lawyer reports, the health care law will have a major impact in 2013 as state and federal agencies rush to implement the ACA’s key features.

Chief among those features are the Health Insurance Exchanges, which are insurance marketplaces designed to help carry out the ACA’s key feature–the individual mandate–by simplifying the process for purchasing health insurance for consumers and small businesses in every state. As Kathleen Sebelius comments, the Exchanges will provide “one stop shopping for health insurance with better information about plan benefits, quality and cost.” The Exchanges, which will be administered at the state level, must be ready for open enrollment in October 2013 and full operation on January 1, 2014.

Department of Health and Human Services rulemaking has stressed flexibility in the creation and operation of the Exchanges, encouraging each state to take the lead in shaping their Exchange in a way that best accommodates local needs and market conditions. For example, states may choose the type of entity to operate the Exchange, limit the insurance plans eligible to participate, and partner with other states to establish regional Exchanges. HHS also offers support in the way of formal partnership, grant funding, technical assistance, and guidance on key topics.

HHS also allows states to opt out of Exchange planning altogether, leaving it up to the federal government to implement Exchanges in those states. As of early January, the New York Times reported that 23 mostly Republican-run states had indicated that they will not set up their own Exchanges. Another 17 states and the District of Columbia are moving to set up their own Exchanges and seven states have asked to collaborate with the federal government.

Ensuring health coverage and subsequently affordable health care for millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans is an ambitious undertaking, fraught with challenges that states and the federal government are just beginning to work through. In a recently published article from the current issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology titled Developing a Durable Right to Health Care, Erin C. Fuse Brown discusses the momentous shift in policy accomplished by the ACA’s statutory right to health care. She goes on to warn that the ACA’s right to health care is fragile–especially early in its lifespan–and faces significant political and market challenges. Ultimately, the success or failure of the ACA’s most ambitious goals may become apparent as the federal government and states begin its roll-out over the next few years.


Chimeras in DNA Forensic Testing: What to do?

by Ryan J. Connell, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Ryan-Connell.jpgThe answer as suggested in an essay titled Chimeric Criminals by David H. Kaye in the current issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology is not to worry about it too much.

The article criticizes the book Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties by Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli. The book has latched on to a particular genetic anomaly referred to as chimerism. Chimerism denotes the presence of two genetically distinct cell lines in the human body. The authors of Genetic Justice want to use this rare condition to show that the supposed assumption that DNA profiling is infallible is incorrect.

Think for a moment about what DNA evidence has done in criminal law. Do not just think of the convictions, but think of the acquittals, and think of those freed from incarceration by innocence projects around the country that can be attributed to the use of DNA evidence. To call DNA evidence into question over such a rare and insignificant condition such a chimerism stretches the confines of reasonableness. Genetic Justice proffers that there is a 1/2400, 1/10, 1/8, and 1/1 incidence of chimerism. Other estimates are no better. A 2010 article in the Globe and Mail entitled “The Dark Side of DNA” called DNA evidence into question and offered that chimerism may be present in anywhere from a tiny population to ten percent of the population. If an entire science is going to be called into question some better statistics might be advisable first.

This book and other sources, such as “Expert evidence: the genetic chimerism and its implications for the world of law” by Daniel Bezerra Bevenuto assume that if genetic evidence is gathered and then does not match the defendant’s DNA that the courts and lawyers will simply dismiss the case. I think courts can handle whatever problems chimerism presents. If DNA is recovered at a crime scene and identifies person X and said person is chimeric and the reference sample he provides doesn’t match the sample recovered at the crime scene the court will rightly be concerned. The natural and simple remedy to this solution is just to test again. Normally chimeric cells are isolated so a second reference sample taken from the suspect should resolve the anomaly.

Chimerism does not preset the problem that the authors of Genetic Justice suggest. It is a rare occurrence that a DNA sample recovered at a crime scene doesn’t match the DNA of the suspect it identifies. And even in those rare circumstances where the DNA doesn’t match it is an easy fix. For a more detailed analysis of this issue please read the article by David H. Kaye in the Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology.

The full issue of MJLST in which David Kaye’s article appears can be found here.


The Bayou Corne Sinkhole: A New Test for the Gulf Region’s Post-Deepwater Strategy?

by Chris Evans, UMN Law Student, MJLST Executive Editor

Thumbnail-Chris-Evans.jpg Less than 200 miles from the site of 2010’s Horizon Deepwater blowout, another environmental disaster threatens a community in the Gulf Coast region. In early August, 2012, a massive sinkhole opened up beneath the Bayou Corne near a small residential community in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. Filled with brine, oil, and natural gas, the sinkhole has since grown to 8 acres, forcing the evacuation of 300 residents, and officials apparently don’t know when (or if) the area will again be habitable.

Assumption-Parish-Sinkhole-large.jpg

Below the Bayou Corne, the country’s largest independent brine (used in a variety of industrial processes) producer, Texas Brine, had been removing brine from an underground salt cavern for over twenty-five years up until June 2011, when it plugged the cavern. Texas Brine also, with the permission of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, deposited naturally-occurring radioactive material in the cavern. The USGS has determined the collapse of the cavern caused the sinkhole. Although Texas Brine has been working with authorities to monitor and remedy the disaster, the company sought an injunction against an order to drill new wells to install additional monitoring equipment. Texas Brine dropped that lawsuit when Louisiana agreed to instead require the company to perform 3D seismic imaging to evaluate the cavern.

This unprecedented disaster and the torpid response by state officials and Texas Brine is an example of what Daniel Farber called the Gulf region’s “witch’s brew of chronic environmental harm, acute pollution, and threatened communities.” In The BP Blowout and the Social and Environmental Erosion of the Louisiana Coast, Farber described the threats to the region posed by both the Deepwater oil spill and the chronic unpreparedness of the region for such catastrophes.

Farber notes hopefully that “the acute crisis of the spill has helped mobilize attention to the Gulf, which may help catalyze responses to the Gulf’s chronic ills.” Indeed, in October 2010, President Obama established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to develop a regional response to the Deepwater spill, which it released in December 2011. The strategy–one of several post-Deepwater reforms discussed by Farber–is built around four main goals: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, and enhance community resilience.

The Bayou Corne sinkhole has remained mostly unnoticed by national media, so despite its impact on the local community and lack of historical precedent, this disaster is unlikely to mobilize new attention to the Gulf region. But Bayou Corne presents a useful test for the Restoration Task Force’s strategy: can this framework help mitigate the effects of the sinkhole? The strategy’s focus on the coast, the Gulf, tourism, fishing, and oil and natural gas drilling make it a less than optimal source of salvation for the unusual problem of the Bayou Corne sinkhole. But displaced residents would be wise to tap any available Deepwater-related resource aimed at the region. Even if the Deepwater-inspired reforms provide no relief for Bayou Corne, local pressure will improve the state, regional, and federal framework for dealing with (or preventing) the next disaster


Searching for .08: Marijuana Laws and the Problem of Detecting “Drugged Driving”

by Nathanial Weimer, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Nathanial-Weimer.jpgWe’ve all seen the commercial. Some car comes swerving down the road, veering in and out of the proper lane and generally wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. Upon being pulled over, the driver is visibly intoxicated and the police officer quickly notices. The officer breathalyzes the driver, and if alcohol is found takes the driver back to the station for blood testing. If the driver’s blood alcohol level reaches .08, it creates a presumption that the he or she was driving under the influence of alcohol. The law enforcement process is simple and mostly effective, even if the car wasn’t actually filled with the driver’s drink of the night.

The recent passage of laws in Washington and Colorado legalizing the recreational use of marijuana will obviously increase the number of “drugged drivers” on the roads. At first glance, this might not seem like an issue–after all, police have a fairly simple method for measuring whether, and to what extent, someone is intoxicated by alcohol. Seemingly, they could employ a similar system for marijuana (driving under the influence of marijuana is, of course, still illegal). It turns out, however, that detecting the influence of marijuana presents a different set of challenges that law enforcement will have to grapple with.

The legal question for a drug DUI is whether or not one’s driving was impaired by the influence of the drug. One prominent marijuana detection method is the blood test, which measures the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in marijuana, in the blood. If some amount is found, that indicates recent use. There are problems with this test, though. First of all, THC blood levels don’t indicate the time of use because THC remains in the blood for a long period of time, according to DUI Blog. Some say it remains for days, while others claim the period can be weeks or months. Regardless, the point is that THC may be present while the effects of the drug are not; since the legal standard is impairment, a THC finding of a certain level does not necessarily meet that burden.

Effectiveness aside, blood tests also fall short from the perspective of administrative ease and individual rights. As might be expected, conducting and interpreting blood tests is time consuming and costly. As also might be expected, it’s a frustration to the driver to have to submit to a blood test taken at a police station, especially if it comes back negative. While traffic safety is clearly an important concern, well worth a few false alarms, it’s clear that a “drugged driving” detection system suffers from the lack of a breathalyzer-like device that can quickly indicate marijuana use and support blood testing of a driver.

Users, too, have a need for a short-term test that can be easily administered and understood. Drinkers of alcohol should have a general idea of their intoxication, at least up to the point where they know they should no longer drive. Most drinks have a known amount of alcohol in them, the alcohol is roughly the same strength, and there is only one way to ingest them. Marijuana on the other hand varies in strength depending on type, has multiple methods of ingestion which also vary the strength of the drug’s effect, and it’s more difficult to keep track of the amount consumed. Legal users who have ingested hours earlier and feel no effects may wonder whether their THC level is acceptable.

Technological development has provided a few solutions to the problem of short term detection. One “new” test (it is currently used in Australia and other places) is the saliva test. According to a blog on The Verge, this test is done by swabbing the driver’s mouth, can be completed within 3-5 minutes, and can measure the presence of marijuana for a few hours after ingestion. This would solve the invasiveness issue and the short-term issue. However, the amount consumed cannot be measured, and there are also accuracy based concerns–the test tends toward reporting false negatives. Still, the saliva test seems to be a promising tool for law enforcement in the future.

Another potential solution is being developed by Intelligent Fingerprinting, which is working on a fingerprint drug screening method. The device would use “high sensitivity detection reagents to identify metabolite substances in the sweat contained in fingerprints”, and would compute results in a matter of minutes. While this test would similarly fail to pinpoint the time of ingestion, or the level of impairment, it could be a very useful roadside tool. This device is still in development, however, and could still be a few years away.

With the new marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington, the pressure is on law enforcement to effectively detect drivers under the drug’s influence. While the ultimate step may be to conclusively link detection to impairment, the current step that must be taken is the development of a non-intrusive, short term device that can accurately measure a driver’s chemical levels. Possibly the saliva test will satisfy this need; possibly inventors have yet to create a viable device. In the meantime, it’s important to be careful while driving–especially if you see a car swerving like it’s in a commercial, and it’s entirely filled with smoke.


While 86% of Americans Oppose Behavioral Targeting of Voters, Campaigns Embrace it

by Bobbi Leal, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor

Thumbnail-Bobbi-Leal-ii.jpgWith the dramatic 2012 Presidential election behind us, new information about the campaign funds are being released. A recent Huffington Post article outlining the campaign funds allotted toward the mining and analysis of internet data about potential voters. President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns spent a combined total of $13 million dollars on this controversial practice.

The Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology’s recent publication, “It’s the Autonomy, Stupid: Political Data-Mining and Voter Privacy in the Information Age,” points out that campaigns utilize data mining as a way to more effectively target voters. The mined data includes information gleaned or purchased from both public and private sources. To make use of the internet’s information on the individual, the campaigns use algorithms that match the attitudes of voters on specific issues with individual behaviors and tendencies. The individual behaviors they might look at include where you shop, which team you root for, which petitions you sign, who your friends are, and even what mobile device you use.

With a continued decrease in the number of undecided voters, the practice of using digital data to target particular individuals is an effective one. Further, online targeting can reach voters who would normally have no access to traditional campaigning, such as those in remote counties.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications revealed that a large majority of Americans (86%) are against behavioral targeting and tailored advertising for political or other purposes. However, privacy practices in the political context are not regulated like in the commercial sector due to protections afforded by political speech.


Six Strikes and You’re Out: Can a New RIAA Policy Solve Old Online File Sharing Problems?

by Ian Birrell

Thumbnail-Ian-Birrell.jpgSince at least 1999 when Napster was originally launched, internet piracy, or downloading copyrighted materials (especially songs, videos, and games,) has been a contentious activity. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has historically taken a very public and aggressive stance by finding individuals associated with IP addresses matching those where this “file sharing” is coming from. After finding such a target, the RIAA would send a letter demanding a settlement for thousands of dollars or threatening litigation, risky and expensive to the target, despite a potentially very small monetary value of downloaded material. The RIAA suits, which have continued for a number of years, include a number of well publicized absurd claims.

This journal has written on the RIAA policies before. In 2008, we published a student note by Daniel Reynolds named The RIAA Litigation War on File Sharing and Alternatives more Compatible with Public Morality. Reynolds argued then that the policies were ineffective and unconscionable and urged change.

Change is coming. Later this year, after a number of years in development, a number of major carriers are planning to institute a “six-strikes” plan. This is a voluntary agreement between ISPs and certain content providers (the government is not involved,) and is made to target peer-to-peer downloading. The plan has a notice phase, an acknowledgement phase, and a mitigation phase. Under the plan, a private carrier – say, Time Warner – will first notify a user that there has been an allegation of illegal copyright activity, then force a user who may be infringing (and who may or may not own the account) to acknowledge having received such notices, before the user finally suffers consequences. These consequences can include throttling of internet speed or having popular websites blocked.

Proponents point to a few positives under this proposal, including the user’s right to appeal to an independent arbitrator (for a $35 fee.) Additionally, though lawsuits are still permitted by copyright holders, the hope is that the system will educate the public about copyright infringement and that, on notice that their behavior is illegal, infringement will at least slow down. Ron Wheeler, a Senior VP at Fox, said that, “This system is not designed to produce lawsuits–it’s designed to produce education.

Unfortunately, a lack of education may not be the underlying problem. Reynolds noted that, even in 2004, awareness of the (il)legality of file sharing was widespread. And increasing awareness may not sharply decrease infringement. Critics further note that, despite the safeguards, penalties are ultimately based on accusations rather than definite findings of infringement. If the system ultimately works, though, it may be worth the headaches for both sides. Consumers will not be able to infringe (as much) but the public will also not suffer suits against twelve-year-olds for sharing music.


Apple & Samsung Litigation Shows Need for Patent Reform

by Thomas Manewitz, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Thumbnail-Thomas-Manewitz.jpgIn the past two years, two of the world’s mobile technology leviathans, Apple and Samsung, have engaged in multibillion dollar patent infringement litigation. Specifically, Apple has been seeking damages and fighting for injunctions on several of Samsung’s mobile products in markets across the globe. On August 24, 2012 in the United States, Apple won a 1.049 billion dollar damages award for Samsung’s “willful patent infringement.” In the same lawsuit, Samsung counter sued and won zero damages. In the wake of this trial, Apple is seeking an injunction for 20 Samsung products.

Samsung provides the market with a popular Apple alternative that does not come close to dominating the market share. In the context of the litigation, both Samsung and Apple were forced to release their U.S. sales numbers. Samsung, who is at risk of having its products blocked from the U.S. markets, sold 21 million smart phones and 1.4 million tablets, while Apple sold 86 million smart phones and 34 million tablets. New and different products are now at risk from being removed from consumer markets because of our patent litigation structure. I will not argue that this case alone will temper innovation; however, it does beg the question as to whether or not high profile patent litigation, and the patent system as it currently stands, optimizes the production societal good and innovation. Perhaps the United States patent system should be reorganized based on different principle. For a discussion of the reorganization of the patent system see the United States patent system see Liza Vertinsky’s article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Tehcnology, “An Organizational Approach to the Design of Patent Law.”


Pharmacists Refusing to Dispense OTC Birth Control

by Katelyn DeRuyter, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Katelyn-DeRuyter.jpgCan your access to a legal method of birth control be blocked by your pharmacist? It seems likely. Although emergency contraception (EC) is legal in America and a recent poll found that 77% of Americans object to pharmacies refusing to fill birth control prescriptions, a woman that goes to pick up EC may face a denial of the drug by her pharmacist. According to the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District, in recent case Morr-Fitz, Inc. v. Quinn, the state’s “Conscience Act” (protecting health care personnel from liability when they refuse to act due to their conscience) protects pharmacists who refuse to dispense EC. Illinois is not alone in providing pharmacists the ability to deny EC. Six states have laws that explicitly permit pharmacists to refuse to administer EC. Five more states (including IL) have “conscience clause” laws that are worded broadly enough that pharmacists may be included.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as of August 1, 2012 medical insurance plans must completely cover the costs for birth control–including emergency contraception–STD screenings and many other preventive health measures for women. Depending on which articles you read, this expansion in required insurance coverage either marks a hallmark step in women’s rights or an egregious affront to one of this country’s ideological pillars–the freedom of religion. Regardless of your stance on the new legislation, the fact remains that increased financial access to such services is meaningless if physical access is blocked. This is especially true in regard to emergency contraception which must be taken as soon as possible after intercourse in order to be effective. Thus when a pharmacist refuses to provide access to EC, they are putting their objections to EC above a woman’s right to exercise control over her body.

In Pharmacists and the “Morning-After Pill”: Creating Room for Conscience Behind the Counter, published in Volume 7 issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Tony J. Kriesel faces this question of whether a pharmacy or individual pharmacist can constitutionally refuse to administer EC. Kriesel starts with the proposition that EC can be viewed as an abortive drug. It is this possibility of EC acting as an abortive that motivates pharmacists’ denials. Whether or not EC is considered an abortive drug depends on at what point in reproduction one considers pregnancy to have begun. If pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized, then EC can act as an abortive if taken during ovulation. If taken during ovulation, EC prevents the egg from implanting in the lining of the uterus, thus causing the fertilized egg to be aborted. However if pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg successfully implants in the lining of the uterus, then EC is not abortive but acts like all other forms of birth control and simply keeps a potentially viable pregnancy from beginning.

After acknowledging there is controversy in the medical community over whether fertilization or implantation begins pregnancy, Kriesel asserts that EC is in fact an abortive and that pharmacists can constitutionally refuse to administer the drug. Kriesel’s legal analysis of this issue focuses on the protections provided to the pharmacist by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and the fact that a woman’s right to EC (regardless of its classification as an abortive) does not entail a right to have access to EC wherever is most convenient.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed this question of whether a pharmacy or individual pharmacist can constitutionally refuse to administer emergency contraception (EC). What are your thoughts on the issue? Can (and should) states pass laws that allow pharmacists to deny access to a legal form of birth control? Does the right to freedom of religious expression trump a woman’s right to exercise control over her body?