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Author Archives: Sabine Vollmer

Decline of the garage inventor?   (access required)

Over the next two years, the patent reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law in September will overhaul basic legal tenets that go back to the Founding Fathers and have shaped U.S. technological innovation for more than 200 years. Patents, along with copyrights, are singled out in the U.S. Constitution as deserving of special protection. So even though rules that govern the transformation of ideas into intellectual property have changed from time to time — the last significant alteration was in 1952 — U.S. patent ownership has always centered on the inventor.

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NC-based institute to take leadership role in forensics technology (access required)

Help is on the way as North Carolina’s embattled state crime lab seeks to put more science into its forensic science. Under scrutiny for forensic errors and misconduct, the state crime lab is under new leadership and is overhauling its policies and procedures, and undergoing legal and scientific reviews. By 2012, the lab should gain two accreditations that are recognized by the academic community and most of its forensic scientists should have their skills tested and externally certified, said George McLeod, who as head of the State Bureau of Investigations oversees the crime lab. “We want to demonstrate that we are committed to the pursuit of justice,” McLeod said.

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University scientists bring the lab to the courtroom  (access required)

To teach his students about forensic science, Wes Watson, an entomology professor at N.C. State University, likes to borrow a scene from an early episode of “CSI: Las Vegas.” In the episode, Gil Grissom, the night shift supervisor of the “CSI” team, pulls a cattle grub from the bullet wound of a shooting victim lying on the autopsy table. “Genus hypoderma,” Grissom, the show’s bug man, tells Dr. Al Robbins, the fictional Las Vegas chief medical examiner. “These are normally found in the intestinal tract of cows. These maggots aren’t found in humans.” The cattle grub is key to solving the TV case, because it leads Grissom to discover that the bullet was made from frozen ground beef.

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State, bar officials monitor debt-management companies  (access required)

Ten months ago, the debt settlement industry suffered a double setback in North Carolina: A lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenged its advance fee practices, while the Federal Trade Commission issued a regulation that prohibited client enrollment over the phone. The result? An ongoing game of cat-and-mouse, as debt settlement companies use local attorneys to test whether they can sidestep those limits. The new FTC rule seems to have had a deterrent effect on the debt settlement industry, said Lynne Weaver, assistant N.C. attorney general in the consumer protection division. So far, the number of consumer complaints is down this year and most of the ones consumers filed are about deceptive practices that go back a year or more.

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After tort reform, support costs of litigation get a hard look from lawyers (access required)

In anticipation of state legislators passing tort reform, Mark McGrath and his law partner, George Podgorny, started reviewing medical malpractice cases for filing about eight months ago. With the new tort reform law taking effect Oct. 1, the triage of what to fast-track and what to drop continues unabated at McGrath Podgorny in Research Triangle Park. Every new case coming in is probed: How many medical experts are needed to present the case? How much research will be required? What’s the chance of settling the case or winning a jury verdict if it goes to trial? Is the patient at the center of the case a child or a nursing home resident?

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Foreclosure filings slow for the first time in seven years   (access required)

The number of mortgage foreclosure filings in North Carolina is on the decrease for the first time since 2004, but the drop is most likely temporary. In May, foreclosure filings were down more than 10 percent compared to the same time a year earlier, according to N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts figures. RealtyTrac reported filings decreased 33 percent nationwide. But creditor and debtor attorneys across the state don’t believe the number of delinquent or defaulted loans is much different from last year’s record high. Nor have large banks that own or service mortgages noticed a slowdown in distressed home loans.

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Creditor attorneys deal with consumer-protection laws (access required)

The debt crisis was rocking Wall Street and beginning to reach North Carolina. Jerry T. Myers, a well-connected Raleigh debt collection attorney, kept getting regular, half-joking reminders that he needed to organize the state’s creditors bar. Starting in 2008, his friend, Adam Olshan, a board member of the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys, or NARCA, would call every so often and needle him. “So, Jerry, how’s that creditors bar association going?” Olshan would ask, and Myers would answer, “I’m working on it.”

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In a family way (access required)

Marcia Zug entered Yale Law School thinking she wanted to become a judge, because she liked the idea of wielding the law as a tool. But then she changed her mind. Almost a decade later, she’s glad she did. Zug, 33, is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia. She teaches family and American Indian law, and is establishing a reputation as a legal analyst in emotionally charged immigration cases. Last year, for instance, she talked on Public Radio International about a pending Missouri Supreme Court case that involves an undocumented Guatemalan poultry worker, who is facing deportation but does not want to leave without her U.S.-born son. The boy was adopted against his mother’s will during the three years she was in detention.

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