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5 notable GCs in the news

General counsel sound off on NSA surveillance, gene patentability, "patient dumping" and more

Snooping Scandal

“The law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.”

--Randy Milch, general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc.

The news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting data from the phone calls of Americans nationwide has dominated recent headlines (and sent sales of George Orwell’s “1984” soaring). The covert program came to light courtesy of Edward Snowden, a former employee at NSA security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who leaked details of the classified surveillance operation to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Verizon was among the companies that handed over phone records—including phone numbers and data on call length, location and time—to the NSA. The phone company maintains that it “continually takes steps to safeguard its customers’ privacy,” but that it would be obliged to comply with the NSA’s request for information.

Patents in Peril

“The balance of our patent estate is still valid and enforceable.”

--Rick Marsh, general counsel of Myriad Genetics Inc.

In a much-anticipated decision released this week, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that naturally created human genes cannot be patented. That decision was likely unwelcome to Myriad, the defendant in the case, which held patents on two genes that are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The ruling does allow companies to patent synthetically created genetic material, a partial victory that sent Myriad stock rising immediately following the ruling. Unfortunately, that climb was followed by a swift plunge, perhaps because investors fear that other companies will now be able to create tests designed to isolate the cancer-casing genes.

Supposed Settlement

“This is a testament to the old adage: Those who are talking don't know and those who know aren't talking.”

--Gerson Zweifach, general counsel of News Corp.

News Corp. is denying reports that it is close to a settlement that would require it to pay large fines to settle Department of Justice claims that it bribed overseas government officials. The agency has reportedly been investigating whether the news organization violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing U.K. police for information connected to the company’s phone-hacking scandal.

On Monday, a report in The Guardian suggested that News Corp. might have to pay anywhere from $850 million to “billions” of dollars to settle the allegations. But in a meeting with shareholders, Zweifach adamantly denied the existence of any such deal, saying that “there [has] been no discussion of fines. Period.”

Hospital Horror

"The government didn't seem particularly outraged. It seemed pretty sanguine about the whole thing, which is why we need to dig deeper, find out how many people this happened to, what happened to them."

--Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada

Nevada resident James Brown was admitted to the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital earlier this year for psychosis, auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Three days later, the hospital allegedly discharged Brown with nothing more than a bus ticket to Sacramento. Brown is now the plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, that alleges “patient dumping” on the part of the hospital.

The state is now reviewing Rawson-Neal’s practices, and the hospital is reportedly now requiring chaperones to accompany out-of-state patients when they leave the hospital.

Terrestrial Tunes

“As with any innovative technology, we have encountered many attempts by the incumbent industry players to undermine Pandora’s mission to connect millions of fans with the music and artists they love.”

--Christopher Harrison, assistant general counsel of Pandora

Although Harrison maintained in a recent op-ed that “the Internet isn’t just the future of radio; it is radio,” he used the rest of his column to explain why the famed online music service opted to buy a terrestrial radio station earlier this week.  The problem, Harrison says, is that a January 2012 agreement between the Radio Licensing Marketing Committee, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) gives preferential treatment—including lower licensing fees—to traditional radio stations.

Pandora purchased its South Dakota station in an effort to avoid those fees, but the move wasn’t enough to stop BMI from suing the company, arguing that the fees it charges are “reflect the explosive growth of the Internet music streaming marketplace.”

Alanna Byrne

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