January 2008 Archives

January 2, 2008

Applied Materials sues Chinese chip-equipment maker

InfoWorld reports:

Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment (AMEC), of Shanghai, was sued in California by Applied Materials, which claims the company misappropriated its trade secrets. But lawyers for the Chinese company asked the judge to dismiss the suit, arguing the U.S. court has no jurisdiction over AMEC’s activities. AMEC’s motion for dismissal will be heard by Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, on Feb. 11.

Applied’s lawsuit, filed in October and amended last month, claims AMEC used its trade secrets to develop etch and CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposit) tools that are used to make chips. AMEC’s tools will compete against similar products from Applied, which cost millions of dollars each. Applied is seeking an injunction from the court to prevent the misappropriation of its trade secrets and wants punitive damages as well as a declaration that it owns patent applications recently filed by AMEC….

In response, AMEC’s motion to dismiss argues that the U.S. court has no jurisdiction over the Chinese company. “In this case, there is no jurisdiction over AMEC Inc., because the allegations of the (amended complaint) relate exclusively to actions that took place in China. None of Applied’s claims arises out of allegations concerning contact with California,” the motion said, adding any legal action by Applied against AMEC should be heard in a Chinese court instead.

Filed under China, Information Technology, Legal and Criminal Issues by

California Ports trying to get trucking companies to hire independent drivers

California Ports are trying to encourage trucking companies to hire independent drivers as a way to cut pollution, but the trucking companies say they cannot afford it. As reported in Inside Bay Area:

At the Port of Oakland, as well as ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, a cornerstone of that effort entails persuading trucking companies to hire drivers — rather than continue to use them as independent contractors. Port officials, as well as several community and environmental groups, say this plan will cut pollution because trucking companies can afford to run cleaner trucks than the independent drivers can.

The trucking companies, however, say they cannot shoulder the additional economic burdens of hiring drivers and acquiring trucks. Nevertheless, trucking companies are being pushed to embrace some measures to improve drivers’ conditions and help reduce pollution. More than 50 percent of the truck drivers who serve California ports earn no more than $30,000 a year after expenses, according to a report by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. On such wages, drivers cannot buy and maintain the most fuel-efficient rigs, the organizations argue.

Port of Oakland officials presented a proposal to its board June 7 that would encourage trucking companies to hire drivers and assume ownership and maintenance of hauling equipment. Such a plan would reduce pollution from poorly maintained old trucks and employers would provide better wages for the drivers, officials said…

New trucks can cost upward of $120,000. Used ones cost what the market will bear, depending, like automobiles, on make, year and condition. Mohammed Asif bought his last truck used in 2006 for $6,000. But Vereket Waldegorgis, another independent, spent $20,000 for his second-hand equipment. Several trucking company owners, such as Jerry Phillips of IMPACT Transload and Rail, based in Richmond, said drivers want to remain independent.

But this belief does not jibe with the petition 1,250 of the port’s 1,500 drivers signed, saying they would prefer to be employed by trucking companies. The Teamsters union and community action group Change to Win, which organized the petition drive, presented the document to the port Board of Commissioners in July.

The Port of Oakland has been waiting to implement its clean truck program until officials see how similar plans work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles… Meanwhile, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — which has tried for years to unionize port drivers — awaits the day when independent contractors will become employees. Chuck Mack, director of ports for the Teamsters union, said, “We’re comfortable we’re going to change the model in Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach.”

Filed under California Ports, Transportation by

Governor proposes program to train more engineers

Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed an education initiative that is intended to boost the number of California-trained engineers during the next decade by building new partnerships with schools, the military and businesses. The goal of the Engineer Initiative is to bring 20,000 to 24,000 new engineers into the state’s workforce. There are currently too few graduates to meet the demand for civil, electronics, mechanical, aerospace and industrial industries, according to the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The proposal would establish a program with the California State University and University of California systems that would speed certification of veterans with engineering backgrounds, sending them more quickly into open jobs. It also would send $1 million in federal funds into an apprenticeship program for community college students, expand K-12 charter school high-tech engineering preparation programs and launch the Engineering Education Council, which is designed to attract private funds to help guide math and science students into engineering programs at colleges and universities.

Filed under Education and Training, Governor Schwarzenegger by

California group forms to fight Chinese censorship

A group calling itself the “California First Amendment Coalition” has formed to fight Chinese government censorship of the Internet. The group has used an approach that many large and small business who have been victims of this censorship (including this one) have long encouraged: make the argument that censorship and the blocking of political content is a free trade issue. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In a presentation Monday to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, the San Rafael, Calif.-based California First Amendment Coalition argued that China’s blatant and sophisticated censorship of the Internet violates China’s obligations under the World Trade Organization.

The nonprofit group wants the U.S. Trade Representative to file a petition with the WTO alleging that China has breached agreements that WTO members must adhere to. China became a member of the WTO in 2001. The WTO has never addressed whether e-commerce and Internet access are covered by the organization’s bylaws — but activists say the CFAC initiative could become a test case.

According to CFAC attorneys, WTO agreements give members “rights of market access” for bilateral trade — but many electronic retailers cannot have fully operable Web sites for Chinese consumers because of government censorship. “China’s censorship of the Internet, while fundamentally an issue of free speech and individual liberty, is also a significant barrier to U.S.-China commerce and, therefore, very much a trade issue,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of San Rafael, Calif.-based CFAC.

China’s government uses software to root out offensive keywords and block blacklisted Web sites. Government censors, known as Net nannies, surf the Web looking for pornography, subversive political content or other illegal material. China — which has 162 million Web users — is among a handful of countries that have extensive filters for political sites. Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam also believed to block political content.I

Filed under China, Foreign Relations, Internet by

January 21, 2008

California home prices drop almost 15 percent

The bad news in the California real estate industry- at least for sellers, has been relentless. The latest report from DataQuick- a real estate research firm, shows that the medial home price in California is now $402,000 last month, down 14.8 percent from $472,000 in the year-ago period, and home sales in the state have plummeted more than 40 percent from a year ago. As reported by AP, “The state has seen sales decline year-over-year for 27 straight months as the once-booming housing market tanked and a credit crisis forced mortgage lenders to scale back so-called jumbo mortgages that exceed $417,000. That’s helped skew the median home price downward because fewer jumbo loans have translated into fewer high-end homes being sold. The percentage of homes purchased with jumbo loans last month fell nearly 70 percent from December 2006″.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

California worker confidence plummets

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The California Employee Confidence Index dropped 2.5 points to 50.3 in December, the lowest level seen in the history of the survey, according to a report released Friday. The latest report, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corp., indicates that California workers are becoming increasingly less confident in the job market, economy and in their personal employment situation. Results from the California Employment Report include:

  • Sixty-three percent of workers believe the economy is getting weaker, an increase of nine percentage points from November.
  • Thirty-five percent of employees are likely to look for new jobs, up seven percentage points from the previous month.
  • Forty-seven percent of California workers believe there to be fewer jobs available, a 10 percentage point increase since November.

Filed under California Economy by

Sun buys open source MySQL for $1 billion

Sun Microsystems Inc.has agreed to buy software company MySQL AB for $1 billion, a move that is expected to bolster their position with database technology and make them more competitive with Oracle Corporation: As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The MySQL deal lets Sun – the third-largest maker of server computers – enter the $15 billion market for database software, challenging Oracle Corp. and adding a source of service revenue. Closely held MySQL develops databases and lets customers such as Google Inc. and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange use them for free, making money from maintenance.

Sun is bolstering its software unit to offer more programs that businesses need to build Web-based systems, Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Schwartz said. Schwartz, who became CEO in April 2006, restored Sun to profit after five years of losses by cutting jobs and adding products.

“MySQL gives Sun a flagship product, the most popular open-source database technology,” said Raven Zachary, an analyst with research firm 451 Group in Portland, Ore. The purchase “offers a model for Sun to follow as it tries to sell other open-source software products

Filed under Information Technology, Mergers and Acquisitions by

January 23, 2008

Disney to launch cellphone service in Japan

Walt Disney Co. is planning on launching a new cellphone service in Japan on March 1, according to a report in Los Angeles business. Disney’s Japan unit said it will become a mobile virtual network operator using Softbank Corp.’s pricing plans and sales channels, according to Dow Jones reports. The partnership was initially reported on in November. Burbank-based Disney discontinued two similar services in the U.S. in recent years, with Disney Mobile announcing in September that it was stopping service at the end of 2007 and Mobile ESPN shutting down in September 2006.

Filed under Japan, Telecommunications by

California foreclosures skyrocket

More cheery news from the real estate sector. Housing foreclosures in California are up a stunning 400 percent from the same period a year ago. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Foreclosures and default notices skyrocketed to record peaks in California and the Bay Area in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a report released Tuesday. The information was a fresh reminder that the slumping real estate market is continuing to have a serious impact on homeowners, particularly those with risky subprime mortgages.

Lenders repossessed 31,676 residences in California in the October-November-December period, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla research firm. That was a dramatic 421.2 percent increase from 6,078 in the year-ago quarter. In the Bay Area, foreclosures rose an equally stunning 482.5 percent to 4,573 in the fourth quarter, compared with 785 a year ago. Contra Costa County, with 1,558 foreclosures, up 533.3 percent from a year ago, had the most, followed by Alameda County with 1,026 (a 514.4 percent increase) and Solano County with 704 (up 528.6 percent).

“Foreclosure activity is closely tied to a decline in home values,” DataQuick President Marshall Prentice said in a statement. “With today’s depreciation, an increasing number of homeowners find themselves owing more on a property than its market value, setting the stage for default if there is mortgage payment shock, a job loss or the owner needs to move.” It was the most foreclosures since DataQuick began tracking them in 1988 and more than double the previous peak of 15,418 foreclosures in the third quarter of 1996. The fewest foreclosures recorded were in the second quarter of 2005, when 637 homes were repossessed.

Mortgage default notices, sent by lenders when homeowners are several months behind on payments, also hit record highs. Default notices are the first step of the foreclosure process. Statewide, lenders sent 81,550 default notices, up 114.6 percent from 37,994 in the fourth quarter of 2006. It was up 12.4 percent from 72,571 in the third quarter of 2007. It was the most defaults since DataQuick began tracking them in 1992.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

California unemployment rate jumps to 6.1 percent

As reported in Los Angeles Times:

California’s jobless rate jumped to 6.1% in December, up from 4.8% a year earlier, prompting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to move to expedite public works projects in an effort to stimulate the economy. The surge in unemployment, up from 5.6% in November, was the latest sign of the toll of the housing slump, the sub-prime mortgage debacle and production shutdowns during the Hollywood writers strike.

The job figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department also suggested that the malaise had spread to the retail sector, in which employers shed 2,200 positions in December. That loss in a month when merchants typically post gains brought the total decline in retail jobs for the quarter to 12,200. Some economists said the report was another harbinger of recession; others thought the figures were likely to improve somewhat when more data were available. Most agreed that the state’s budget problems had just begun.

“We’re headed for probably a sharper slowdown than any of us expected two months ago,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, adding that it could tilt into a “mild recession.” “That’s going to put a lot of pressure on state and local government budgets,” he said.

Schwarzenegger announced his response to the weakening outlook about the same time the job figures were released, saying he wanted to spur the economy and “keep more people working.” The governor held an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday, when he told agency and department heads to work to speed the release of $29 billion in 2006 bond fund money for road and school construction and levee repairs.

“The people of California are feeling the hit of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and housing slump,” he said in a statement. “While other sectors of our economy remain strong — creating more than 15,000 new jobs last month — it’s clear that California and the rest of the nation will have to weather this disruption for a while.”

Filed under California Economy, Governor Schwarzenegger by

California sends Agricultural Trade Mission to Cuba

As reported by Reuters:

California, the top U.S. food producing state, has sent its first official agricultural trade mission to communist Cuba, looking to tap a potential $180 million food market. While other U.S. states have pushed ahead in selling Cuba an average $350 million per year in agricultural products, mainly grains, California is a late arrival. Californian companies sold products worth just $735,000 to Cuba in 2006.

“Some of us might be a little late in getting here, but we are here,” California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura told reporters in Havana. Kawamura is leading a delegation of companies seeking Cuban contracts for dairy products, wine, grapes, figs, nuts and other specialty fruits. So far, Cuba has bought powdered milk and rice from California, and some wine and apples.

U.S. food sales to Cuba were allowed in 2000 under an exception to the trade embargo Washington has maintained since 1962 against Fidel Castro’s government.

Filed under Agriculture and Food, Cuba by

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