Legal Research Blog


Summer Reading and Scuppernongs

Like it or not, we have reached the last month of summer. The length of our sunny days is waning. August is a summer reading month, especially for students, many of whom postpone their scholarly reading obligations until they absolutely can’t wait any longer. Summer can also provide good quiet reading time for those of us no longer in school. We might crack open a new paperback novel on the beach, or enjoying a magazine during a long summer flight to a business conference. Working with the law, we know that constant reading and learning is mandatory for all of us, regardless of age. Here at Fastcase, our staff of summer interns – now preparing for the fall semester in colleges and law school, and our professional staff, must read constantly in the course of the job.

That reading might consist of reviewing case law in order to perfect online formatting, or it might consist of scouring the web for articles on legal technology breakthroughs. In the course of our reading, we learn our country’s laws, read historical cases whose significance has grown over time, thrill ourselves reviewing Hollywood-script-worthy criminal cases, or simply expand our vocabulary.

Our senior reference attorney, in the course of fine-tuning online formatting, came across the Linbergh baby kidnapper appeal of 1935, State. v. Hauptmann., 180 A. 809 (N.J., 1935). A standout example of frenzied media coverage affecting the judicial process, the Lindbergh kidnapping story reads like a prime-time crime drama.

A much less-famous case from Georgia which mentions a women slipping on the peel of a strange fruit in her grocery store, Mahan v. McRae, 241 Ga. App. 109 (Ga. App., 1999), proved to be entertaining – and a vocab booster – for another staff member. Regarding the identity of the fruit, a footnote to the case notes, “During her deposition, Reddick referred to the fruits she saw as plums, but in a subsequent affidavit, Reddick stated that she has since learned that they are called scuppernongs.”

The punctilious accuracy of this plaintiff resulted in a very rare word gracing the court’s documents, and consequently, the Fastcase database. Indeed, “scuppernong” only shows up in eleven cases in the entirety of our case law collection. But, perhaps more importantly, the diligence of this Georgian permitted our Fastcase employee to improve his vocabulary, and consequently astound his friends and family with a correctly written definition when playing Balderdash later in the summer. By then, thanks to Fastcase, he knew that scuppernongs “are large grapes. See Webster’s New Intl. Dictionary (2nd ed.), p. 2252.”

Beyond these trivial enjoyments that summer reading can provide, reading with Fastcase can provide a truly significant education. Summer projects prepare our interns and workers to re-enter the more active fall season with an increased knowledge of our nation’s law. The law isn’t always as entertaining as the paperback you read on the beach, but it can be fascinating none-the-less, and valuably informative. And whereas the cheap fiction we buy from the grocery store shelf is copyrighted and requires purchase, fascinating stories documented by our nation’s courts are designated to be freely published for all. Of course, these enthralling stories can be prohibitively time-consuming to find, even though they are free. We at Fastcase hope that our online search service makes it a little bit faster and more affordable for you to find those rare memorable cases, as well as all the other routine stories, dutifully recorded by the courts, which help you in your daily work.

ABA Technology Survey: Which legal apps do lawyers use most?

Since we launched our app, Fastcase for the iPhone, we’ve kept a close eye on which mobile devices lawyers are using most often. Recently the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center released results of its annual technology survey.

Smartphones Used by Lawyers

46% Blackberry

35% iPhone

17% Andriod

Legal Research Apps Used by Lawyers

25% Fastcase

11% Westlaw

9% Lexis

Read more about the ABA Technology Survey at Lawyer Tech Review.

For Insightful Legal Commentary, Check Out Justia’s Verdict

Earlier this summer, you may have heard that Justia launched Verdict, a legal analysis and commentary site. The top-flight columnists cover legal topics like constitutional law, international human rights, new technology, discrimination, family law, and more. Each weekday, Verdict publishes a new column with fantastic analysis of current events and legal topics. We very highly recommend reading. In fact, one Fastcase team member enthusiastically declares, “The time I spend reading Verdict is one of the best parts of my day.”

A quick list of this weeks columns:

Armed and Crazy: Should Mentally Ill People Be Permitted to Own Firearms?

“Respect” or “Defend” Marriage? The Senate Considers a Bill to Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA)

Preventing the Next Crisis: What We Must Do to Maintain the Public’s Confidence in the Financial System

We hope you enjoy these articles as much as we do. Happy reading!

How to Prevent Yourself from Losing Twitter Followers

Lots of our users are looking for new ways to build and maintain their social media networks. Social Media Today has an excellent blog with terrific tips for corporate social media success. We loved today’s “Hands-on-Training” post about why companies lose followers on Twitter. Here are some quick tips we were able to glean from the article.

1. Control the quantity and quality of your tweets.
2. Avoid a Twitter faux pas – good manners online are as important as in real life.
3. Counteract real life problems with extra valuable content. (Justin Bieber lost 80,000 followers when he cut his hair).
4. Make sure you have control over the account where you’re getting help with your tweets.
5. Don’t let auto-pilot take over. Social media should be personal where possible.

For more advice, we also recommend this other Social Media Today post “Ten Surefire Ways to Get Me to Follow Your Twitter Account.”

Who Owns Your Genes? Part III

Can our genes be patented? More importantly, what consists of a change that is significantly patentable? In a follow up to this winter’s blog entry regarding the case Association of Molecular Pathology, et al. v United States Patent and Trademark Office, et al we continue to look into this potentially revolutionary biotechnology case.

The case covers the patent dispute over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as well as the diagnostic tools involving these genes which are held by Myriad Genetics of Utah. Mutations of these genes indicate a strong possibility of breast and/or ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs have argued that the patent was improper because the DNA was part of the human body and therefore part of nature; while the defendants have argued that the chemical was isolated and the copyright protects the work that went into their research.

The urgency behind this case is rather incredible. The earlier one can determine whether or not they are likely to develop or redevelop the cancers, the more treatment options become available. The patents on these genes and the test for mutations have created a monopoly as researchers, patients, and their doctors all have to go through Myriad Genetics. Testing alone, if not covered by insurance, can be $3,000 per test. That is only the tip of the iceberg. A ruling against Myriad also has the potential of upending decades of patents revolving around the human genome. Saying that billions of dollars are at stake is an understatement.

Last year a New York federal judge has struck down some of the patent, namely that the isolation of the genes was not enough to patent them. Gary Cohen of the Foundation Medicine speaking with The Atlantic pointed out that this ruling is likely a transformation of thinking resulting from the digital age:

“We’ve been accustomed to thinking of DNA as a molecule, a chemical entity (which, of course, it is). But in this more sophisticated era, we understand that DNA is not “just” a molecule; its an information-carrying molecule. Genes are better thought of as packets of information, not mere molecules, Judge Sweet reasoned. This reasoning is key to his decision — because the information encoded by a gene is the same, whether its sitting amongst its natural neighbor genes, or in isolated form. That’s why researchers want to isolate genes — because they are useful in all sorts of ways, but only because the isolated form contains the same genetic instructions as the naturally-occurring form. Using this information paradigm, the judge reasoned that “isolation” does not render a naturally-occurring gene something novel, something patentable. This part of the ruling is what makes it so interesting — its very much consistent with “information age” thinking — bits, bytes, genetic base pairs, genes: all information carriers.”

On Friday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Myriad’s patent. The reasoning being that the BRCA genes are not found isolated in nature and can thus be patented.  There has been quite a bit of uproar over the new ruling, Mike Masnick over at Techdirt had this to say about the decision-

“Basically, they seem to be arguing that because a severed finger is not attached to a hand, the finger is not naturally occurring, and, thus, is patentable.”

It was not a complete victory for Myriad however. Some of the patents on the diagnostic tests that were in dispute were invalidated. It is likely that the case will move on to be reviewed by the full panel of judges rather than just the three that heard the case and likely proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a chance for a different result, as the dissenting opinion by Bryson was more in line with the original opinion issued by Judge Sweet.

The back and forth in this case simply increases the drama on an issue that will have such a large impact on the biotechnology industry, decades of patent awards, and the millions of patients who depend on these tests- and Myriad- for their well being.