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Patent-reform bill wins on 95-5 vote
The nation's 1950s patent system, which has forced innovators and inventors to wait years and outlast challenges and lawsuits before getting recognition for their products, would be overhauled under a measure passed Tuesday by the Senate.
The legislation, which was approved 95-5, transforms a patent system now operating under a law passed in 1952, at a time when the high-tech revolution was still in the future and international competition was still negligible. It now moves to the House.
President Obama said he looked forward to signing into law "the most significant patent reform in over half a century" to increase economic growth and create jobs.
The bill's most substantial change would be to switch the United States to a "first-inventor-to-file" system for patent applications used by all other industrialized countries, rather than the current "first-to-invent" system. Supporters say the first-to-file system would put American innovators on the same page as their overseas competitors, making the process simpler, more certain and less expensive.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said disputes over who invented a product can cost $500,000 in legal fees. The new system lets an inventor pay $100 for a provisional application to protect his invention. To meet the concerns of independent inventors and small businesses that first-to-file would aid corporations with the resources to file quickly and often, the bill gives a one-year grace period to protect academics and inventors who disclose their inventions before filing.
Patent office director David Kappos said first-to-file was "a win for all American innovators, of all sizes and all industries."
Underwater mortgages rise as home prices fall
The number of Americans who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth rose at the end of last year, preventing many people from selling their homes in an already weak housing market.
CoreLogic said about 11.1 million households, or 23.1 percent of all mortgaged homes, were underwater in the October to December quarter. That's up from 22.5 percent, or 10.8 million households, in the July to September quarter.
The number of underwater mortgages had fallen in the previous three quarters, but that was mostly because more homes had fallen into foreclosure.
Underwater mortgages typically rise when home prices fall. Home prices in December hit their lowest point since the housing bust in 11 of 20 major U.S. metro areas. In a healthy housing market, about 5 percent of homeowners are underwater.
8 more airports OK'd for Cuba flights
Eight new airports have been given permission to schedule charter flights to and from Cuba.
Customs and Border Protection officials say charter flights to Cuba can be scheduled from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and international airports in Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Atlanta and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Previously, flights were permitted only from Los Angeles, Miami and New York.
Access to flights to the communist island nation still will be limited to people who meet certain travel requirements, including people from Cuba and those traveling for educational purposes or with religious groups.
The decision to allow eight new airports to schedule flights to Cuba is part of a broad effort to reach out to the Cuban people announced by President Obama earlier this year.
New fingerprint system is faster
The FBI conducts 165,000 fingerprint checks a day and the job just got easier.
The bureau has begun using a new computer system that takes just seven minutes to search a database of 70 million sets of fingerprints for a possible match with the fingerprints of a suspect. That is down from the old average search time of 17 minutes.
In a recent side-by-side, five-day test of the new and old systems, the new FBI system turned up 910 additional matches between prints submitted to the bureau and prints in the FBI's database from earlier arrests.
Engineers computed the accuracy rate of the new system at 99.6 percent, compared with the rate of 92 percent for the old system, which had been in use for more than a decade.
Health care provision overhaul delayed
PORTLAND | The federal government is delaying a key provision of President Obama's health care law to protect Maine's fragile market for individual health insurance, making it the first state to receive such a waiver.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that it is waiving for three years a requirement that insurers spend 80 to 85 cents of every premium dollar on medical care and quality improvement.
One of three insurers offering individual plans in Maine had threatened to withdraw from the state if the requirement remained in place. The insurer, Mega Life and Health Insurance Co., has 37 percent of the state's individual market.
Maine requires that insurers spend 65 percent of premiums on medical care and quality improvement.
Similar requests are pending for Nevada, Kentucky and New Hampshire.
Leaky insulin cartridges recalled
NEW YORK | Johnson & Johnson, which has been beset by a seemingly endless stream of product recalls, has recalled hundreds of thousands of potentially leaky insulin pump cartridges that could lead to serious health problems and death.
It also has been warned by the Food and Drug Administration about manufacturing concerns for heart devices made at its Cordis unit's San German, Puerto Rico, facility.
J&J's Animas unit, the maker of the recalled cartridges and insulin pumps in which they are used by diabetics, said in a letter to patients last month that it found some of the cartridges can leak, resulting in delivery of less insulin than intended.
Insufficient insulin can cause high blood sugar and a serious condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal. A leaking cartridge also could cause the pump to fail to sound an alarm if there were blockage in the infusion set, Animas said.
There have been reports of two adverse events experienced by patients but neither involved hospitalization or death, company spokeswoman Caroline Pavis told Reuters.
A total of 384,180 2.0 milliliter insulin cartridges were recalled.
Kennedy Center gets another $10 million gift
Billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein is making a second $10 million gift in less than six months to the Kennedy Center to help reach younger and more economically diverse audiences.
The gift announced Tuesday makes Mr. Rubenstein, of Bethesda, Md., the largest single donor in the center's history, with donations totaling $23 million.
Mr. Rubenstein became the center's chairman last year and is co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.
His gift will fund programs to reach younger audiences, subsidize ticket prices and devote money for the opera.
The center also announced that its 2011-2012 programming slate will include a festival of music from Budapest, Prague and Vienna, and a street arts festival throughout Washington in 2012.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports
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