Toys of tomorrow
By Erin Geiger Smith
This year's must-have toys are so passé. Now, intellectual
property hounds are on the trail of the best-sellers of
Sarah Burstein, an associate professor of law at the
University of Oklahoma College of Law who tweets from
@designlaw, noticed during her weekly check of new patent grants
that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had given the
thumbs-up to 10 designs from Lego, including a motorcycle toy.
(She helpfully included the drawing with her tweet.)
Interestingly, Lego's strategy of patenting specific toy
sets is a fairly new one, according to the new Legal Review,
which covers legal strategy and development in the IP world. As
part of its "Patents that changed the world" series, Legal
Review looks into Lego's intellectual property history. In 1988,
the company lost its last significant patent for its original
"binding brick" system, and a number of competitors entered the
fray, according to the article. Since then, Lego has acted to
protect its work by focusing on the sets rather than the
In a similar example of copyright and childhood memories
intersecting, The Morgan Library in New York has an exhibit on
Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter and her copyright
battles. According to material in the exhibit, Potter's
publishers were caught off guard by Peter Rabbit's success,
failed to file for a copyright in America, and Potter spent
years fighting to protect her work. "One bitten, twice shy,
(Potter) stoutly defended her right to other publications and
related commercial products," the write-up says.
By Caitlin Tremblay
Today in unsurprising court rulings: Being too drunk is not
an excuse to get out of paying your bar bill.
A Manhattan Supreme Court justice has dismissed a lawsuit by
a patron of Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, according to the NewYork Daily News. William Ilg sued the club in 2011, claiming he
shouldn't have to pay his $28,109.60 tab because he was served
too many drinks and was "no longer capable of conducting
financial transactions." He filed suit after seeing his credit
card bill and realizing that he didn't remember much from that
night. Ilg demanded a full refund from the club.
The justice threw out the lawsuit, saying the Hustler Club
has no duty "to protect the plaintiff from the results of his
(voluntary) intoxication." The justice also tossed a separate
claim by Ilg alleging that the club didn't have a proper liquor
By Dan Brillman
The California Commission on Judicial Performance, which
investigates complaints of judicial misconduct, has voted
unanimously to admonish California Superior Court Judge Derek
Johnson for remarks he made while sentencing a man convicted of
rape, The Associated Press reports. Among other things, Johnson
told the court, "I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you
something: If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse,
the body shuts down." He also said, "The body will not permit
that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard
nothing about that in this case." Instead of imposing a 16-year
sentence, as recommended by the prosecutor, Johnson gave the
rapist a six-year term.
During the course of the investigation by the commission,
Johnson apologized for his remarks and said he had made them out
of frustration with the prosecutor. In California, judges can
receive four levels of punishment: advisory letters, private
admonishment, public admonishment and removal or retirement from
Johnson's remarks come in the wake of similar comments made
earlier this year during election campaign season. U.S. Senate
candidate Todd Akin, who was defeated in the Missouri race, said
in relation to pregnancy from rape that "the female body has
ways to shut that whole thing down." Indiana GOP Senate
candidate Richard Mourdock later said that God intended every
pregnancy, including those resulting from rapes. Mourdock
eventually lost the seat, held by a Republican for 35 years.
Court finds CIA tortured suspect
By Suhrith Parthasarathy
The judgment makes for chilling reading. On Thursday, the
European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman
who was mistaken for an al Qaeda operative was "severely beaten,
sodomized, shackled and hooded" by CIA agents, as the Macedonian
state police looked on, The Guardian reports.
Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin, was picked up
in Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003, held in Skopje for 23 days,
the Strasbourg-based court said. El-Masri was then handed over
to a CIA team, which first tortured him and then transferred him
to Afghanistan. In Kabul, El-Masri was locked up in a secret
prison, known as the "Salt Pit," slammed into walls and kicked
and beaten for four months. His head and neck were specifically
targeted. In May 2004, when the CIA realized that it had the
wrong man, it flew el-Masri back to Macedonia and dropped him by
the side of a road near the Albanian border.
In addition to finding that the CIA had tortured el-Masri,
the court found Macedonia guilty of having violated the European
Convention on Human Rights' prohibition on torture and inhuman
or degrading treatment. It ordered the country to pay el-Masri
$78,000 in damages. In Washington, as Andrew Rosenthal writes in
The New York Times, officials still haven't acknowledged the
incident. A federal judge in Washington in 2006 dismissed alawsuit filed against the U.S. government by the ACLU on behalf
of el-Masri. The United States has not apologized to el-Masri,
although in 2005 German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that
former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had accepted that an
"error" had been made, The Daily Telegraph reports.
By Erin Geiger Smith
If general counsels are banking on buying holiday presents
with their bonuses this year, they might have to trim their list
A new survey of large law departments conducted by the
Association of Corporate Counsel and Empsight International
reveals that for participating general counsel, total pay in
2012 declined 2.2 percent due to cash bonuses that shrunk 8
percent, falling from $590,040 to $543,109.
The smaller bonuses came even as base salaries for general
counsel in large law departments ticked up, rising to $567,000
this year from about $557,000 in 2011. That represents a 1.9
percent rise, notes Catherine Dunn of Corporate Counsel, who
writes on the site about the survey. Participating companies
included Nike Inc and Time Warner Inc, she says.
In contrast, Reuters in November covered a survey that
looked at 136 general counsel from Fortune 1000 companies. They
saw their total pay rise slightly, to a median of $1,548,000 in
2012 from $1,512,000 in 2011.
Early bird special
By Caitlin Tremblay
The Arizona Supreme Court has weighed in on the debate about
the value of the third year of law school, approving a rule
change that will allow the state's law school students to take
the bar exam before they graduate. According to azcentral.com,
Arizona is the only state in the country with such a provision.
The rule change was proposed recently in response to the
national debate about the value of the third year of law school.
Some critics say itis unnecessary,and schoolslike New York
University have overhauled their curriculum to shift the
emphasis to the first two years.
Usually law students graduate in May, take the bar exam in
July and get their results in October. Under the new Arizona
rule, students can take the test in February of their third year
and get results in June, a month after they graduate.
The early testing will launch in February 2014 as a pilot
program ending in 2015. It will apply to students in the state's
three law schools - University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona
State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law in Tempe and
the Phoenix School of Law -- who meet certain requirements, like
completing 90 percent of required classes.
Changing the bench
By Erin Geiger Smith
The verdict is in: President Barack Obama will end his first
term with more judicial vacancies than when it started,
according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. Obama
had about the same record as his two immediate predecessors with
court of appeals judges but fell behind both presidents George
W. Bush and Bill Clinton when it came to getting through
district judge nominations.
Taking a deep dive into the judicial nominations and confirmations in Obama's first term, visiting Brookings fellow
in governance Russell Wheeler parses the reasons for the
increase in vacancies. A leading one is that Obama nominated
judges at a slower pace than either Bush or Clinton, Wheeler
says. By the end of his third year, the president had made
nominations for three-fourths of the open seats; at the same
point in their presidencies, Clinton and Bush had submitted over
90 percent of their district court nominees.
Of course, nominating is the only first step, and to
actually fill seats the nominees have to be confirmed. Wheeler's
report shows that wait times from nomination to hearing, as well
as the time it takes between the hearing and a vote, has risen
steadily since the Clinton years.
If Obama continues on the same path in his second
administration, he has the potential "to reshape the courts of
appeals significantly in terms of the proportion of judges
appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents," Wheeler
notes. He shows how the number of Republican appointees in
circuit judgeships has declined since Obama took office, and
says that many Republican appointees are at or near the age in
which they could take senior status -- and that could create
more openings. Working through various assumptions on the
possible rate of nomination and approval of judges in Obama's
second term, Wheeler says the balance on the court of appeals in
2016 could be 57 Republican appointees (compared to 99 when
Obama took office) and 103 Democratic appointees.
Wheeler's meticulously detailed report comes with a caveat
from the man himself, who told Reuters that such predictions are
less math and more "informed speculation."
Whatever the political leanings of future judges, getting
robes in vacant seats would likely bring comfort to many in the
overworked judiciary. It would apparently also please The New
York Times editorial board, who on Wednesday suggested Obama
make staffing the federal bench a top priority in his second term.
Summary Judgments for December 13
Summary Judgments for December 12
Summary Judgments for December 11
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