Welcome to ESL Business News for May 7, 2007. ESL Business News gives you a podcast and script of international business news every week in slow, clear English. Find us on the web at eslbusinessnews.com, where you can follow along with the podcast script as you listen.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez celebrated May Day, the international workers' holiday, by issuing a decree that transferred control of the country's last privately owned oil fields to government control. The state will own at least 60% of every oil field in the country, and Chávez encouraged the companies owning the remainder to retain their minority holdings in order to help develop the fields and refine the crude oil. The U.S. oil companies Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, the British company BP, Norway's Statoil and France's Total agreed to the transfer of control, although negotiations over compensation still have several weeks to go. Chávez has announced that he may nationalize private hospitals and the steel and banking industries as well.
The Chinese have arrested the general manager of a company northwest of Shanghai for selling wheat gluten used in pet food that killed at least 16 pets in the United States and made thousands of others sick. The wheat gluten contained melamine, a chemical that is normally used to make plastics and fertilizer but that is sometimes added to pet food because it fools the tests that measure the amount of protein in the food. Similar exports also killed more than 30 dogs in South Africa.The Chinese government first objected to claims that the animals were killed by exports from their country, and their new willingness to take action shows that they were worried about the effect of the animal deaths on their export business.
Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate the News Corporation has bid $5 billion for Dow Jones, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal newspaper. There had been no announcement that Dow Jones was available for sale. Although the Dow Jones board of directors announced that 52% of the voting shares of the company were against the sale, Murdoch is not giving up. He announced that he would create an independent editorial board for the Wall St. Journal and would not send his own editors to run it. Discussing his attempts to communicate with Boston's Bancroft family, who own 62% of the shares, Murdoch said "I think the next step for us is to be patient—and to be available at any time should they respond to my suggestion for a meeting."
The News Corporation is not the only media conglomerate trying to buy a well-known financial news publisher. British news and financial information provider Reuters announced that Canada's Thomson Corporation has made a bid to buy them out. Thomson has grown from a small newspaper publisher to a worldwide publisher of scientific, healthcare, tax, and especially legal research information. They publish some financial information, but are not a major player; a Reuters acquisition would let them compete with market leader Bloomberg for the business of delivering real-time financial information. News of the Thomson offer and Murdoch's offer for Dow Jones boosted the share price of most major publishing companies.
A US court decision on the design of a gas pedal for cars and trucks will have a huge effect throughout the country's technology industries. When Canadian pedal manufacturer KSR International added an electronic sensor to one pedal model, the Teleflex company claimed that the design infringed on their patent and demanded royalties. In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that the invention was obvious enough to not be worthy of protection under patent law. Because so many hardware, software, communications and biotechnology companies make their money by charging royalties for technology that may infringe on their patents, this change in how courts view infringement will make it difficult for many of these companies to make this money so easily.
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