We start with lots of business news this week as Marissa Mayer continues to organise Yahoo!’s executives and HP attempts to rejuvenate its webOS division (formerly known as Palm) with yet another name change. Then we’ve got the latest legal lowdown, with an in-depth look at the Apple v Samsung trial as well as news about Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. Finally, we wrap up with some product news tidbits and some exciting science. All that, and more, below.
It seems Marissa Mayer doesn’t plan to cull every executive at Yahoo!: the new CEO has appointed Ron Bell, a legal executive who has been with the company since 1999, to the role of permanent general counsel. Bell had served as interim general counsel since late June and was one of the driving forces behind Yahoo!’s recent patent litigation against Facebook. Mayer also this week announced that David Filo, one of Yahoo!’s co-founders, would be reporting directly to her from now on. Filo, a major proponent of Mayer’s hiring, has reported to a variety of executives throughout the years despite owning more than 6% of the company.
Motorola Mobility, the smartphone maker now owned by Google, told employees this week that it would “lay off 20 percent of its work force and close a third of its 94 offices worldwide.” The cuts, which will see around 4,000 jobs lost, are part of an overall plan by Google to overhaul the notoriously unprofitable division, which lost $233mn in its first six weeks at Google and has been unprofitable for 14 of the last 16 financial quarters. The layoffs are expected to cost Google as much as $275mn in severance packages and other costs.
Facebook’s purchase of Instagram has been cleared by the Office of Fair Trading, the UK watchdog responsible for investigating major business purchases that might lead to antitrust situations. The OFT said it “has decided, on the information currently available to it, not to refer the following merger to the Competition Commission under the provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002.”
HP is to spin off its failed webOS division into a new subsidiary, which will be called Gram. Gram employees are apparently being told to think of the venture as a start-up, though nobody yet seems sure what the new division will be hoping to achieve; a leaked internal document says, “Gram is a new company leveraging the core strengths of webOS, Enyo and our Cloud offerings as well as the firepower of our partners to create a technology that will unleash the freedom of the Web,” while a tagline on the document adds: “Potent. Light. Nimble. At the core of all things big and small.” Good luck deciphering that one.
Legal – Apple v Samsung
The Apple v Samsung patent trial has now seen its penultimate week, with both companies resting their cases and nearly out of time by Friday afternoon. Apple rested its case on Monday, shortly after its expert witness on finance testified that Apple would be seeking a huge $2.88bn in damages. Samsung then proceeded with its defence, beginning with witnesses who created tablet user interfaces some years ago that Samsung believes should count as prior art – potentially invalidating Apple’s design patents. Samsung’s lawyers were under pressure from the clock, however; each side has 25 hours to make its case, and Samsung spent almost 13 hours of its time cross-examining Apple’s witnesses, leaving just 12 for its own evidence. By Friday afternoon, Apple had a little over three hours left while Samsung had only 46 minutes – the evidence will conclude on Monday, with closing statements scheduled for Tuesday.
Arguably the most interesting (and sensible) character in the trial has been Judge Lucy Koh, who from the outset has been determined to bring order to the bickering between the two companies. First she imposed the 25-hour time limit for each company, and on Wednesday this week she asked for the CEOs of the two companies to meet and see if a settlement might be reached before the case goes to the jury, saying: “It’s time for peace.”
Frankly, it’s no wonder that Judge Koh is trying to bring the case to a close as soon as possible. Samsung and Apple on Monday presented a 30-page document outlining their agreed legal instructions for the jury – only to promptly follow it up with 273 pages detailing everything they couldn’t agree on. Koh wrote that she was “disappointed.” Then, later in the week, Apple put forward a list of 21 witnesses it still wished to call, despite having less than seven hours of time left. Samsung warned that it would file pages of objections if Apple didn’t shorten its list, to which Koh, who has a relatively small legal staff compared to the two companies, said: “Please don’t do this to me.” (Of course, Samsung has also been trying to rush through witnesses as quickly as possible.)
The tension reached a breaking point on Thursday morning, when Judge Koh was presented with 75 pages of objections to witnesses whom she believed there would not be enough time to call anyway. She shouted at Apple’s lawyer: “You want me to do an order on 75 pages tonight? When, unless you’re smoking crack, you know that these witnesses are not going to be called? Who is going to call all these witnesses when you have less than four hours left?” Bill Lee, one of Apple’s lawyers, said: “Your honour, first of all, I’m not smoking crack. We have timed it out.” A second Apple lawyer, Michael Jacobs, said: “We didn’t mean to burden the court.” Koh could only reply: “You filed 75 pages of objections! What do you mean you didn’t mean to burden the court?” She promised Apple’s lawyers that there would be repercussions if they had overestimated: “If it turns out I will have gone through 75 pages of objections for people who are not realistically expected to be called, then I’m going to think up a proper tax for that.”
Legal – Other
Ecuador has granted asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in a high-profile move that has angered both the UK, which wants to deport him, and Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in relation to possible allegations of rape. Assange walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in London almost two months ago and has been living there ever since while Ecuador’s government decided what to do with him. Official asylum changes little, however: he still cannot leave the embassy, whose foreign soil protects him from arrest by UK authorities, and so he has no way to get to South America. William Hague, the foreign secretary, called Ecuador’s decision a “matter of regret” and said: “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.” The Swedish foreign ministry called the decision “unacceptable” and immediately summoned Ecuador’s ambassador.
The US has lost its appeal against a ruling in New Zealand that will force the FBI to disclose the extensive documentation supporting its request for Kim Dotcom’s extradition. The evidence may include discussions between US authorities and big copyright holders such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that could potentially be embarrassing, and so the disclosure order (entry for August 16th, 2012) is a major blow. Dotcom was arrested in January 2012, but the extradition ruling will likely now be delayed until 2013 – assuming the disclosure doesn’t cause the US to rethink its options.
A judge in Illinois has ruled that TechnoBuffalo, a tech blog, does not have to reveal the identity of an anonymous tipster. The case has taken almost a year to resolve but the ruling is good news for online publications, who can now use it as precedence to invoke reporters’ privilege. Jon Rettinger, president of TechnoBuffalo, called it “a huge step, a big step in protecting us.”
Hacking & Security
Oracle has announced that from now on it will be directly publishing Java for OS X in the same way it publishes Java for Windows. Java for OS X was previously released by Apple, which in the past has led to delays in pushing out critical security patches.
Adobe and Microsoft both released large numbers of patches this week on “patch Tuesday,” the second Tuesday of the month. Several of the Windows patches are to fix critical flaws, so this author gently reminds you not to ignore Windows Update for too long. How long can it really take to reboot your computer?
Adobe has pulled its Flash Player browser plugin from the Google Play store (formerly known as the Android Market) as part of its decision to stop developing Flash for mobile devices and focus on HTML5 instead. Older Android devices will still run Flash, though Adobe recommends users do not install it.
Lenovo, Dell and Samsung have all confirmed that they will be official Windows RT (read: Windows 8) partners, alongside Asus and Microsoft itself. On the same note, Microsoft has now made available the 90-day trial of Windows 8 Enterprise to download and try out.
Microsoft’s new Outlook.com email service, designed as the successor to the dated Hotmail, has gained almost 10 million users in two weeks.
The Oatmeal, a popular web comic, is using IndieGoGo, a crowdfunding site, to try to raise $850,000 to buy the site of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory in New York and turn it into a Tesla museum. At the time of writing the campaign had raised an impressive $635,534 with 42 days to go.
CERN, apparently bored since the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson last month, has broken the man-made temperature record by creating a quark-gluon plasma with a heat of around 5.5 trillion degrees “for science.”
Astronauts on the International Space Station have photographed a “red sprite,” an electrical explosion in the atmosphere above a thunderstorm. Red sprites are hard to record because they appear only briefly and the thunderclouds prevent them being seen from the ground.
Members of the public are being invited to help decide which celestial object the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile should photograph next.