Echo Dots briefly sold for free on Friday

Online shoppers got Amazon’s Echo Dot speaker for free on Friday.

Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) listed the small smart speaker at $49.99 on its website, but customers received a $49.99 credit automatically that dropped the price down to $0 at checkout. The deal was removed shortly before 1 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday.

Customers received the $49.99 credit as an “Audible promo code.”

It’s unclear if the price drop was due to a special promotion or a technical glitch on Amazon.

Amazon’s Echo speaker puts the Alexa smart assistant inside your home. The smart speakers can tell you the weather and traffic, read the news, and let you control a number of other apps with voice commands.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still no solution regarding patents on plants and animals

Despite strengthening of prohibitions: Patents on conventional breeding still not ended in Europe.

The 38 Contracting States of the European Patent Office (EPO) at their meeting in The Hague decided to strengthen prohibitions in European patent law with regard to the breeding of plants and animals. However, at the same time, new loopholes have been created that will allow the relevant prohibitions to be eroded. As a result, the EPO will shortly resume granting patents on conventionally bred plants and animals. Already in May 2017, companies were informed that several patents on plants derived from random mutations are ready to be granted. The legal and political controversy will continue.

“Pressure from civil society succeeded in strengthening current prohibitions in European patent law. But this is not yet a long term solution,” says Christoph Then, spokesperson for “No Patents on Seeds!”. “The EPO and big business will continue to abuse the patent law to privatize the resources of daily food production. In reaction, we will maintain our pressure on political decision-makers”.

European patent law already prohibits patents on “essentially biological processes” i.e. breeding processes that do not use genetic engineering for the breeding of plants and animals. Nevertheless, the EPO has in the past granted nearly 200 of patents on plants bred through crossing and selection or other random processes, such as mutations. According to the new rules, patent applications will be refused only if they are related to a plant or animal arising directly from crossing and selection. In most other cases plants and animals will remain patentable. Especially plants and animals which are identified to inherit random mutations that are relevant for the breeding characteristics are defined as being patentable.

In the document adopted, there is also no clear distinction between conventional methods of breeding and genetic engineering: If plants with specific genetic characteristics are patented, then all plants with such traits will be covered by the patent, regardless of whether they are derived from methods of genetic engineering, from conventional breeding or whether they naturally show those traits. In effect, the EPO is fulfilling demands from industry by declaring that plants and animals are patentable if genetic characteristics are described in detail in the patents, no matter how these were achieved.

The patents on barley and beer granted to Carlsberg and Heineken are just one example. In 2016, the companies were granted two patents on barley plants that produce kernels with random mutations. A third patent claims plants resulting from the crossing of the two barley varieties claimed in the other two patents. The patent covers the barley, the brewing process and the beer brewed with the barley. Many civil society organizations have filed oppositions against these patents. The EPO has itself confirmed that, based on the new rules, it is unlikely that these patients will be revoked.

“If plants or animals are patented, other breeders can no longer use those plants or animals or, if they do want to use them, they need to apply for a license from the patent holder. Under the traditional variety protection system, all conventionally bred varieties on the market can be freely accessed for further breeding. This free access is critical to innovation in breeding and the preservation of biological diversity”, Katherine Dolan says from Arche Noah, Austria.

The “monopoly patents” are primarily in the interests of the largest companies. On the other hand, small- and medium-sized breeders are coming under increased pressure, and fear being squeezed out of the market or taken over by the seed giants. Farmers and consumers alike will become more and more dependent on corporations such as Monsanto and Bayer, which together already control more than 25 percent of the global seed market.

Steve Jobs’ life is now an opera

The life of Steve Jobs is headed for the opera.

“The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” is set to open on Saturday night at the Santa Fe Opera, home to the largest summer-opera festival in U.S.

The high-tech production, which runs until August 26, jumps in and out of key moments in the Apple (AAPL, Tech30) founder’s life, from early product-development days alongside Steve Wozniak and the launch of the original iPhone, to his wedding day with Laurene Powell Jobs.

Most of the narrative is taken from what’s been written about Jobs, blended with an interpretation of who he was in his personal life.

“Everyone in the world thinks they know Steve Jobs because they’ve read about him and seen him do product launches,” said librettist Mark Campbell, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his opera “Silent Night.” “But we wanted to make this icon a human being and [explore] the things in his life that weren’t great or beautiful, his foibles, strengths, and qualities.”

The opera features an electronic score, developed by Mason Bates, that incorporates sounds from the products Jobs created, including the audio synonymous with turning on an early Macintosh computer. The libretto, or operatic script, doesn’t call out words like Apple or iPhone due to copyright issues; instead, it uses descriptors like “one device” to reference the smartphone.

“Only one device does it all,” the libretto reads. “In one hand, all your need. One device. Communication, entertainment, illumination, connection, interaction, navigation, inspiration … .”

“Tap, get the news. Tap set a date. Tap, book a flight,” it continues, as images of emails, texts and news reports project on screen.

Rather than elaborate set changes, the opera uses stage projections to move from scene to scene. It’s working with 59 Productions, the same projection company that famously displayed colorful images on the surface of the Sydney Opera House.

One scene in “(R)evolution” begins with Jobs in his father’s garage. After he’s given a workbench on his 10th birthday, the walls around them explode into video screens.

“The projection design is a very important part of the storytelling,” Campbell said. “How can you create an opera about a man who advanced technology so much and not has a technically advanced production?”

Projections have become increasingly used in Broadway shows like “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won the Tony award for Best Musical this year. With “(R)evolution” — which took two years to develop — projections take the audience inside settings like the California apple orchard that inspired the company’s name, and on stage at an iPhone launch event.

Portrayals of Jobs’ life have made its way to film in recent years — the role has been played by stars like Michael Fassbender and Ashton Kutcher. But this is the first time his story has received treatment on an opera stage.

The Santa Fe Opera, now in its 61st season, is known as one of the top global festival companies in terms of size, budget and number of performances. It’s also made a name for itself for putting a spin on budget and number of performances. It’s also made a name for itself for putting a spin on the contemporary subject material. In 2015, it’s recording of “Cold Mountain” — an original opera based on the 1997 novel of the same name — was nominated for a Grammy.

“We’re crossing our fingers for [a nomination] for this one, too,” said Daniel R. Zillmann, a spokesman for the Santa Fe Opera.

Salesforce CEO bemoans ‘horrors of the last week’

Marc Benioff kicked off Salesforce’s second-quarter earnings call with an urgent plea: “This hatred must end now.”
The company’s CEO began what is usually a formulaic presentation to investors by commenting on violence at a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia and the terror attacks in Spain.

“The world has watched with all of us the horrors of the last week taking place in the United States and Spain,” he said Tuesday. “The pure hatred that we have seen displayed is everything we all want to end.”

Benioff went into particular detail about the events in Charlottesville, where an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and wounding 19.

What happened behind the scenes as Trump’s business councils fell apart

“I’ve been especially disheartened to see the display of symbols of hatred including Nazi flags and salutes to KKK hoods,” he said. “The horrible, tragic death of Heather Heyer was a senseless act of terror, and this hatred must end now.”

In the call, Benioff did not directly take on President Trump, whose response to Charlottesville has been widely criticized, including by top business leaders.

The president’s repeated insistence that the violence in Virginia should be blamed on “many sides” led to the dissolution of his two business advisory councils last week.

Benioff wasn’t a member of either council, but he has expressed his support on Twitter for executives who decided to take a stand.

“CEOs have the obligation to stand for what is morally right,” he tweeted on Saturday.

The Salesforce (CRM, Tech30) CEO has weighed in on a number of national issues so far this year.

In July, he tweeted support for transgender members of the military after Trump said he would ban them from serving.

The month before, he said he was “deeply disappointed” by the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

And in January, he made clear his opposition to the president’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“When we close our hearts & stop loving other people as ourselves (MK 12:31) we forget who we truly are—a light unto the nations. #noban,” he tweeted.