December 2007 Archives

December 13, 2007

Ebay sued by Tiffany for not controlling counterfeiting

Tiffany & Co., the world’s second- biggest luxury jeweler, said EBay Inc. is a “rat’s nest” for counterfeiting and urged a judge to rule that the biggest online auctioneer was liable for infringement according to a report in Bloomberg. Tiffany assailed EBay in a legal brief filed Dec. 7 to U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan, as the companies await his ruling in a trademark infringement trial. EBay said in its brief that it’s a “model citizen” in the fight against counterfeiting. At issue is whether EBay must pay damages for failing to make adequate efforts to block sales of counterfeit silver jewelry. New York-based Tiffany and other retailers claim online sales of counterfeit clothes, bags and jewelry cost them about $30 billion a year.

Filed under Internet, Legal and Criminal Issues by

UPEK to invest $100 million for “Center of Excellence” in Singapore

Emeryville, California -based biometric technology firm UPEK is committing some S$100 million to strengthen its presence in Singapore. According to ChannelNews Asia, it plans to build a centre of excellence here and use its base in Singapore to drive global growth.

UPEK was awarded the International Headquarters Award by the Economic Development Board on Wednesday. The International Headquarters Award is given to foreign companies in recognition of their contributions and commitment to Singapore. UPEK has been in Singapore for more than two years, and it is pumping $100 million over the next 10 years to grow its presence here. This includes building a centre of excellence. Alan Kramer, President and CEO, UPEK, said: “The other thing that will be new for us is, because of our plan with the new IHQ, we will be establishing our first offshore hardware R&D and IC design teams here in Singapore. “And we see Singapore (as) being an increasingly important area for us here and in the future (in terms of) research and development programmes…” Singapore currently accounts for 25 percent of UPEK’s headcount, but this is expected to increase. The company has 120 employees worldwide, with offices in California, Prague, Beijing, Taipei and Singapore. UPEK is seeking to tap into the booming biometrics industry.

Mr Kramer said: “The overall biometrics business continues to be a very high growth market. I think there are forecasts that indicate that it is growing at roughly 40 percent year over year, and is expected to continue (at) that level of growth at least till the end of the decade. “And that growth has been very much part of the success that UPEK has enjoyed since we formed the company a little less than four years ago.” The global biometrics market is projected to almost triple over the next three years to US$5.7 billion in 2010.

Filed under Information Technology, Singapore by

December 14, 2007

State budget deficit now $14 Billion, Governor plans across the board cuts

Just four months ago in August, Governor Schwarzenegger submitted what he called a “balanced budget” to the State Legislature. Apparently his projections were pretty far off, as State finance officials have now determined that the state is facing a $14 billion deficit over the next 18 months, even more than the $9.8 billion projected by Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill. As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Faced with what his staff now estimates as a $14 billion budget hole, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to seek across-the-board cuts to state operations. The administration last month asked departments to prepare hypothetical budgets based on 10 percent reductions for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in case such a move was sought. But now, as the fiscal outlook has worsened, the Republican governor has decided to go forward, according to advocates for social services and local government the governor has summoned in recent days for budget discussions. “Our goal is to be able to spread this as equitably as possible,” said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer, who would not say what percentage cut the governor will seek or whether it would apply to current year spending.

Schwarzenegger is planning to ask the Legislature for a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in state spending next year, according to sources who have met with the governor this month. The 10 percent figure is a target for all departments, intended to impact every sector of state government equally, the governor told social service advocates this week. Schwarzenegger remained resistant to new tax increases, however, insisting that not enough support exists among legislators and voters.

Filed under California Government, California Politics, Governor Schwarzenegger by

Ausra to mass-produce solar thermal collectors

Ausra, the Palo Alto-based solar thermal company that just last month announced plans to build a 177-megawatt solar installation in California, is now in the process of launching a new business arm, mass producing its own flat-mirrored solar collectors. As reported in VentureBeat, it’s begun construction on a Las Vegas facility that it says will churn out enough solar collectors each year to produce 700 megawatts of energy. Ausra plans to have the 130,000 square foot plant completed as early as April 2008

Filed under Energy Industry, Manufacturing by

Silicon Valley businessman gets two years for selling night vision equipment to the Chinese

A Silicon Valley businessman was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for helping broker the sale of a night vision camera to a research institute linked to the Chinese military, according to an AP report. Philip Cheng, 60, pleaded guilty in October of last year to violating a U.S. law forbidding the export of military-related items to China. Cheng was originally charged in 2004 with six felonies, including conspiracy, money laundering and brokering the illegal export of defense-related equipment. A 2006 trial ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn’t reach a verdict, and he later agreed to plead guilty to one count. The indictment alleges Cheng and a business partner didn’t get the required State Department approval before selling a military-grade “Panther I” infrared camera to the North China Research Institute for Electro-Optics for $65,000. They also were accused of entering a contract with the Chinese military to mass-produce night vision equipment in China. Cheng is scheduled to begin serving the prison sentence on Feb. 12, and he has also been ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.

Filed under China, Defense and Military, Legal and Criminal Issues by

UCSF wins $5 million from Gates Foundation to fight malaria and improve health systems

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will give $5 million to the University of California, San Francisco, to promote and implement promising strategies against global health crises, according to a report in San Francisco Business Times. UCSF Global Health Sciences will use the funds to start an “action tank,” led by Sir Richard Feachem, the former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The Global Health Group will first focus on malaria eradication and an enhanced role for the private sector in strengthening health systems in developing countries. “The group’s first project will be an incredibly important one — helping to accelerate progress toward the eradication of malaria, a disease that kills thousands of children in Africa every day,” said Tachi Yamada, M.D., president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program.

Filed under Health and Medical, Philanthropy by

California Micro opens Finland office

California Micro Devices Corp. opened a Northern Europe office in Espoo, Finland, the company has announced. Milpitas-based California Micro said mobile handset suppliers based in Northern Europe represent almost half of the total market. The company also has offices in Chicago, San Diego, the United Kingdom, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. California Micro Devices supplies application specific analog and mixed signal semiconductor products for the mobile handset, digital consumer electronics and personal computer markets.

Filed under Finland, Telecommunications by

Hong Kong Government disappointed in local Disneyland

The government of Hong Kong is said to be disappointed in the operational numbers coming from Hong Kong Disneyland, but will continue to try to improve the park, according to various media reports. The Hong Kong government holds a 57 percent stake in the park, and Walt Disney Company holds the other 43 percent. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma said that the park has come in below attendance estimates for a second consecutive year. No official figures have been released for the current year, but fell short of its initial estimate of 5.6 million visitors in its first year. Local media reports have estimated that about 4.8 million people visited the park in its second year. The park has often faced criticism for being too small- it is the smallest of all the Disney theme parks, and there are rumors that Disney might build another park in mainland China, possibly in Shanghai. About half the visitors to the park come from the China mainland.

Filed under China, Entertainment Industry by

Guess profits up on overseas sales

Los Angeles-based Guess, Inc has reported third-quarter profits up 33 percent as sales from European and Asian markets have increased. In the quarter, the company earned $58.3 million, or 62 cents a share, up from $44 million, or 48 cents a share, in the third quarter a year ago. A 15.8 percent jump in same-store sales pushed revenues up to $469.1 million, up from $328.8 million. In the nine-month period, the company earned $131.3 million, or $1.40 a share, on $1.24 billion in revenue. Through the same period a year ago, the company earned $85.3 million, or 93 cents a share, on $856.4 million a year ago. Guess designs, markets and distributes apparel, accessories and related consumer products.

Filed under Fashion and Apparel by

Oracle acquires Netherlands-based Moniforce

Redwood City-based Oracle Corp. has announced that it has acquired Moniforce, a Netherlands-based software vendor whose products monitor the availability and performance of any Web application. Oracle said the acquisition “significantly broadens the scope of business exceptions addressed by Oracle Enterprise Manager, allowing administrators to proactively monitor and analyze the application experience from a user’s standpoint.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Filed under Information Technology, Netherlands by

December 24, 2007

Did the National Associaton of Realtors cause the housing bubble?

Did the National Association of Realtors cause the housing bubble by engineering a “belief system” based on economic fallacies? The Irvine Housing Blog makes the case that NAR had an almost religious like belief system that help fuel public delusions about the economics of real estate. It provides on overview of the psychology of bubbles and is worth a read.

Filed under Business Associations, Real Estate and Housing by

December 28, 2007

Governor plans to sue federal government over auto standards

Governor Schwarzenegger has announced plans to sue the federal government over its decision not to allow a California plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency refused the state’s request for a waiver that would have allowed it to cut emissions faster than a new federal plan that President Bush had signed into law. “It’s another example of the administration’s failure to treat global warming with the seriousness that it actually demands,” the governor said at a news conference. “Anything less than aggressive action on the greatest environmental threat of all time is inexcusable,” he said.

It has subsequently been reported that the EPA head ignored his own staff recommendation in making the decision: “California met every criteria … on the merits,” an anonymous member of the EPA staff told the Los Angeles Times. “The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years … We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts.” It has also been reported that Vice President Cheney may have been behind the controversial decision.

Staff at the EPA said the agency’s chief went against their expert advice after car executives met Cheney, and a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the EPA saying why the state should not be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases.

EPA staff members told the Times that the agency’s head- Bush appointee Stephen Johnson, ignored their conclusions and shut himself off from consultation in the month before the announcement. He then informed them of his decision and instructed them to provide the legal rationale for it.

Filed under Environment and Climate, Governor Schwarzenegger, U.S. Government by

Kayak.com raises $196 million to buy SideStep

Kayak.com, the travel search engine has completed a $196 million funding round that it will use to buy SideStep Inc. Kayak.com said it intends to maintain both the SideStep.com and Kayak.com brands and will develop and promote each site independently. As reported in the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Michael Moritz of Menlo Park-based Sequoia Capital will join Kayak.com’s board. Other participants include existing Kayak.com investors General Catalyst Partners of Cambridge, Mass., and Accel Partners of Palo Alto. SideStep investors involved included Norwest Venture Partners and Trident Capital, both of Palo Alto. New investors include Oak Investment Partners, which has an office in Palo Alto, Lehman Brothers Venture Partners, and debt lenders Silicon Valley Bank and Gold Hill Capital.

Filed under Mergers and Acquisitions, Travel and Tourism, Venture Capital by

Vietnam Deports Vietnamese-American from California Dissident Group

Communist Vietnam deported a Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist last week, according to a report in New American Media. Leon Truong was arrested on Nov. 17 with five other pro-democracy activists, including one U.S. citizen, a French citizen, one Thai and two Vietnamese nationals, accused of plotting terrorism against the communist state. Truong, a member of the banned California-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), left on a Taipei-bound China Airlines flight from Saigon, Vietnam Television reported. The arrests had led to a rally of Vietnamese Americans outside the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, a protest letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung from a group of Congress members, and a call to explain the charges from the U.S. ambassador to Hanoi.

Filed under Foreign Relations, Vietnam by

Chinese slap three month ban on Hollywood films

Blatant pirating of American-made films is rampant in China, but now even the highly restricted legal distribution and “quota system” of these products is being scaled back. As reported in Variety:

In its most drastic measure ever against Hollywood, Chinese authorities have banned the release of American pics for at least three months. Ban began Saturday and will continue until the end of February at least, but Chinese sources say it could continue until May.

Central-government order came from echelons higher up than the State Administration for Film Radio and Television or the Film Bureau, which normally handle movie industry policy and application. Ruling likely emanated within the Propaganda Ministry. The Asian and Chinese arms of the studios have not been given any release slots in the first two months of 2008.

U.S. studio distribution execs had no comment, but speculation is that the ban will last until after the Chinese New Year celebration in early February. Key factors in the decision are said to be disagreements with U.S. trade policy and the recent success of American pics at the expense of local films.

Distribs have noted privately that the Chinese government often changes the blackout periods on a whim. Normally, the majors would by now have had approval for films that qualify under the quota system, which permits 20 foreign films per year to be released on a revenue-sharing basis. They also report that the Film Bureau’s censorship committee is not even interested in screening their movies.

Four films that would normally have expected to be cleared for release in January or February have been locked out: Disney’s “Enchanted,” DreamWorks’ “Bee Movie,” Paramount’s “Stardust” and Warner’s “Beowulf.”

Filed under China, Hollywood, Media and Entertainment by

December 31, 2007

Protest of China Rose Parade float fizzles out

The Los Angeles Times has reported that human rights activists trying to organize a protest against the Chinese Olympic Games float has failed to generate much interest:

The shell of the Rose Parade float celebrating the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games sits in a sprawling warehouse complex in Azusa. In a matter of hours, it will be adorned with thousands of carnations and roses, outfitted with fireworks and accompanied by 124 costumed Beijing opera singers, acrobats, traditional dancers and plate spinners down Colorado Boulevard.

Critics of China’s communist government hoped to use the elaborate float and its worldwide stage at the Rose Parade on Tuesday as a rallying point for protests about the nation’s human rights record. But despite months of news conferences and protests, China foes have done little to change the parade’s plans and have generated little support — or interest — from Southern California’s large Chinese American community. The lukewarm response underscores the increasingly close relationship Southern California shares with China. There may be no other time in which China has commanded as much influence and interest as it does today.

The San Gabriel Valley is home to one of the largest Chinese American communities in the nation and a growing business class that has made Southern California the chief trading region with China in the United States. To many, the 12-hour or longer flight to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou is more of a commute than a voyage. Business ties between the two countries forge quickly, and though many here believe China needs to improve its approach to human rights, more attention is paid to fueling the economy to improve the lot of ordinary Chinese.

Filed under California culture, China by

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