Canadian court rejects appeal by Google Canada in long-running patent case

Google appeal rejected

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal brought by Google Canada, saying its request would only delay a trial about a patent case filed against the search engine company.

The 3-0 decision written by Justice Yves de Montigny said it would be better to have the central issues go ahead and be considered by the trial judge, rather than be delayed by Google's appeal on a secondary matter.

Google Canada and its parent companies are defendants in an action brought to the Federal Court in 2018 by Paid Search Engine Tools LLC, which is seeking compensation for the use of intellectual property that is covered by a Canadian patent.

Paid Search Engine Tools, or PSET, claims that it has patent rights to some of the technology used by Google's search engine to manage online advertising.

PSET has also pursued similar patent cases against Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in U.S. courts.

The Federal Court is expected to conduct the trial by remote video, because of public health restrictions due to the pandemic.

Microsoft buying speech recognition firm Nuance in $16B deal

Microsoft buying Nuance

Microsoft, on an accelerated growth push, is buying speech recognition company Nuance in a deal worth about $16 billion.

Microsoft will pay $56 per share cash. That's a 23% premium to Nuance's Friday closing price. The companies value the transaction including debt at $19.7 billion.

Shares of Burlington, Massachusetts-based Nuance surged more than 17% in Monday morning trading.

Nuance has been one of the pioneers of commercial voice recognition technology and helped power Apple's Siri voice assistant. It has since shifted its focus to health care, including a product that can listen in on exam room conversations between physician and patient and write up the doctor's recommendations.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Nuance comes after the companies formed a partnership in 2019. The Redmond, Washington, company said that the deal will double its potential market in the health care provider industry to nearly $500 billion.

Nuance’s products include clinical speech recognition software offerings such as Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe, all of which are built on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. The company's products are currently used by more than 55% of physicians and 75% of radiologists in the U.S., and by 77% of U.S. hospitals. Its health care cloud revenue experienced 37% year-over-year growth in fiscal 2020.

“AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement.

Microsoft also has its own digital voice assistant, Cortana, but its consumer use has been limited compared to similar features from Amazon, Google and Apple. Nuance has sought to refine its voice recognition technology beyond consumer use to better understand the complexities of medical language.

Aside from health care, Nuance provides voice-related AI technology in other products, including security features that can recognize individual voices so they can unlock an account or enter a building.

The transaction is Microsoft’s second largest deal following its $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn in 2016. Last September, it bought video game maker ZeniMax for $7.5 billion.

“This is the right acquisition at the right time with Microsoft doubling down on its health care initiatives over the coming years,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to clients.

Ives said the transaction fits well into Microsoft's health care portfolio and comes at a time that hospitals and doctors are embracing next-generation AI capabilities.

Mark Benjamin will continue as Nuance CEO.

The transaction is expected to close this year. It still needs approval from Nuance shareholders. Nuance had 7,100 employees as of September, more than half of whom were outside the U.S. — including crews that help transcribe and edit recorded speech that the AI technology might not fully understand.

Porter Airlines pushes back flight restart date to June 21

Porter pushes back restart

Porter Airlines is once more pushing back its tentative date for resuming flights.

The airline, which has delayed its restart date several times during the pandemic, now plans to resume flying on June 21.

Porter had most recently been set to resume flights on May 19.

Porter chief executive Michael Deluce says the airline is looking ahead to summer and preparing for the possibility of some travel restrictions unwinding.

Deluce says Porter will begin the process of rebuilding its operations as soon as conditions allow based on government decisions.

Porter suspended operations on March 21, 2020, due to the pandemic.

Households expect return to pre-pandemic spending within a year, Bank of Canada says

A return to spending?

Canadian household spending will eclipse earnings in the coming months as vaccinations increase and uncertainty from the pandemic recedes, The Bank of Canada said in a report released Monday.

The central bank says the gap between spending and wage expectations has never been so wide in its quarterly survey of consumer expectations.

Officials at the bank suggest that gap is likely the result of households intending to spend some of the billions in savings built up during the pandemic, either because they cancelled purchases or had no place to spend the money due to restrictions on travel and dining out.

As the survey says, respondents anticipated spending more than one-third of extra savings from the pandemic over the next two years, and one-tenth to pay down debt.

The survey released Monday morning says consumers expect their spending patterns to return to normal in about one year, with post-vaccination increases on a wide range of goods, especially travel and social activities.

Overall, 75 per cent of respondents said they planned to get vaccinated, a further five per cent said they already had a first dose, and the remaining 20 per cent either were unsure or didn't plan to get vaccinated.

The arrival of vaccines appears to have led to growing optimism, as more respondents expected a return to pre-pandemic life than in previous surveys over the past year.

Still, consumers expect the economic recovery from COVID-19 to be slow and the threat of the virus to diminish no earlier than in the second half of the year.

Workers said they didn't expect a return to a normal work schedule for another eight months, which is three months later than responses from the last iteration of the survey in the fourth quarter of 2020.

There was a split, though, in how people viewed the coming months as women and lower-income households expect a slower recovery than men and households with higher income, which the bank said could reflect the uneven impact the pandemic has had in the economy.

There was also a split in the outlook for businesses.

Many high-contact services that remain the most affected by public health restrictions like tourism and pockets of the retail sector don’t expect to see sales return to pre-pandemic levels in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, those selling goods most wanted by consumers working from or furnishing their homes — construction services, appliance sellers — and business service providers are all seeing stronger demand. Many plan to invest in productivity-boosting technology such as automating tasks or consumer-facing digital platforms to meet rising demand, or software and servers to tap into distant pools of remote workers.

Overall, the bank says many firms see the impacts of the pandemic on their activities to be behind them, and many don't seem preoccupied with pandemic-related uncertainty.

And that means they expect to raise prices faster than they have over the last 12 months owing to rising demand and a desire to rebuild margins.

Over half of the approximately 100 firms surveyed by the bank between mid-February and early March — roughly the same time period as the consumer survey — expect inflation to be above the central bank's two-per-cent target over the next two years, pointing to strong consumer demand along with a promise of low interest rates from the central bank and up to $100 billion in stimulus from the federal government.

'The right thing to do:' Sobeys reinstates lockdown bonus for frontline workers

Frontline bonus reinstated

Canada's second-largest grocery retailer is reinstating a lockdown bonus for workers in areas with renewed stay-at-home orders.

Sobeys Inc. says the pay bump is "the right thing to do" and that it will run until the end of mandated lockdowns or until the company determines based on "ever-changing circumstances."

The company says the bonus is a temporary program that rewards employees for the amount of time they work during the lockdown period.

Sobeys says the more an employee works during the government-mandated lockdown the more they earn, ranging from $10 to $100 more a week.

For example, an employee that works a 40-hour work week would earn a $100 bonus that week.

The company says the bonus is being paid to front-line workers at Sobeys, Foodland, FreshCo, Farm Boy, Voila by Sobeys, retail support centre employees and certain IGA locations in locked down regions of Quebec.

Cameco to restart Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan

Cameco to restart mine

Cameco Corp. says it plans to restart production this month at its Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan after suspending it in December to deal with risks from the pandemic.

The suspension followed six positive COVID-19 tests in the company's northern operations, including three at the fly-in-fly-out mine site.

The Saskatoon-based company said in December the mine would be placed in a "safe state of care and maintenance,'' resulting in a significant reduction in personnel and $8 million to $10 million in costs.

CEO Tim Gitzel says the company has implemented enhanced safety protocols for Cigar Lake, including increased distancing on flights, mandatory medical-grade masks for all workers and increased sanitization and physical barriers in eating areas. He says there's also a licensed COVID-19 testing facility at the mine site.

The timing of production restart and the production rate at Cigar Lake will be dependent on how quickly Cameco can bring workers back to site.

There were about 300 workers on site at peak production last fall.

“These further safety measures, along with the provincial vaccine rollout program and increased confidence around our ability to manage our critical workforce, have given us greater certainty that Cigar Lake will be able to operate safely and sustainably," Gitzel said.

The Cigar Lake operation is owned by Cameco (50.025 per cent), Orano Canada Inc. (37.1 per cent), Idemitsu Canada Resources Ltd. (7.875 per cent) and TEPCO Resources Inc. (five per cent).

Alibaba fined $2.8 billion on monopoly charge in China

Alibaba fined $2.8 billion

Chinese regulators have fined giant e-commerce giant Alibaba 18.3 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) on charges of violating anti-monopoly rules.

The ruling Communist Party is tightening control over China's biggest e-commerce and other internet companies and has warned them not to use their industry dominance to stifle competition.

The State Administration for Market Regulation announced Saturday that Alibaba was fined for “abusing its dominant position” to limit competition in online retailing.

Alibaba is the world's biggest e-commerce company by total volume of goods sold across its platforms.

Redline Communications gets $14 million in federal funding for industrial 5G project

Funding for 5G project

Redline Communications will receive $14 million in federal funds to design high-speed wireless equipment for use in the mining, utilities and oil and gas sectors.

Funds for Redline's 5G technology project comes from the federal government's strategic innovation fund for eligible corporations doing business in Canada.

The funds will support a $39.5 million Redline project that the company says will create or maintains 111 jobs and up to 13 co-op jobs.

Redline's project will design high-speed wireless equipment to remotely monitor machinery for the mining, utility and oil and gas industries.

The previously announced strategic innovation fund is designed to provide contributions of $10 million or more toward projects with total costs of at least $20 million.

Redline, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is based in Markham, Ont. and has a market capitalization of about $9.3 million.

Corus lands deal with U.S. streamer Hulu, CEO says Canadian ad revenue rising

Corus lands deal with Hulu

Corus Entertainment Inc. announced a distribution deal with U.S. streaming service Hulu Friday as it reported better-than-expected second-quarter financial results.

The Toronto-based company — which owns one of Canada's largest radio groups, the Global television network and dozens of specialty cable channels — said its Corus Studios division has signed a deal to sell more than 200 episodes of programming to Hulu.

Hulu — jointly owned by Disney and NBCUniversal — will acquire the first three seasons of "Backyard Builds" as well as other renovation and food-related titles such as "Family Home Overhaul", "$ave My Reno" and "Big Food Bucket List."

Financial details of the deal weren't announced, but Corus chief executive Doug Murphy told analysts on a conference call that it was a "breakthrough" multi-year agreement.

Murphy also said Corus has had very positive momentum with advertisers, the major source of revenue for its television and radio businesses.

"We're going to be up a lot in Q3. Full stop. The question is, how big," Murphy said, referring to the third quarter ending May 31.

Murphy said the latest round of restrictions due to the pandemic will delay growth for some categories of advertising — such as those attuned to entertainment and dining — but other categories that have been doing well will continue to do well.

Corus's second-quarter results topped expectations as it reported that its profit for the three months ended Feb. 28 nearly doubled compared with a year ago.

The quarter was helped by a continued recovery in TV advertising revenue, new subscribers to its paid streaming services and growth in its content licensing business, Corus said.

It reported a second-quarter profit of $35.3 million or 17 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Feb. 28, up from $18.5 million or nine cents per diluted share a year earlier.

Revenue totalled nearly $358.9 million, down from nearly $376 million.

On an adjusted basis, Corus says it earned 18 cents per share in its latest quarter, up from an adjusted profit of 12 cents per share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 12 cents per share for the quarter, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Airlines pull Boeing Max jets to inspect electrical systems

Airlines pull Boeing Max jets

Airlines pulled dozens of Boeing Max 737s out of service for inspections after the aircraft maker told them about a possible electrical problem, the latest setback for plane.

Boeing said Friday that the issue affected planes used by 16 airlines, and that it recommended inspections before the planes fly again.

The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people. Regulators in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Brazil cleared the plane to resume flying in recent months after Boeing changed an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes.

Boeing said Friday that the electrical issue was unrelated to the flight-control system. It did not say how many planes are affected or how long it will take for inspections and, if necessary, repairs.

Southwest Airlines, which began flying the Max again last month, said it removed 30 of its 58 Max jets from its schedule to inspect them. Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said the airline has not experienced any known problems related to the electrical issue.

Southwest has a fleet of more than 700 Boeing 737s, most of them older models than the Max. Parish said the airline will use other planes to operate flights that had been scheduled with Max jet, and it anticipates only minimal disruption to its operation.

American Airlines temporarily removed 17 of its 41 Max planes from service, according to a memo to employees. Boeing traced the issue to a production change made after the worldwide fleet of Max jets was grounded in 2019, American's chief operating officer, David Seymour, said in the memo.

“We will never knowingly operate an aircraft with a known or potential issue,” Seymour said.

American was the first U.S. airline to resume flying the Max, in late December.

United Airlines said it temporarily grounded 16 of its 30 Max planes and will try to operate all flights with its other planes. The airline said it was in contact with Boeing and federal regulators to determine what steps are needed before the planes can return to service.

Alaska Airlines said it removed all four of its Max jets from service “to allow for inspections and for work to be done.”

Boeing said that it is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration on the matter.

Since the Max crashes, Boeing has made internal changes in response to accusations that it short-changed safety in pursuit of profits. Lawyers suing Boeing over the crashes seized on the latest problem with the planes.

“This grounding calls into question the safety of the Max and why Boeing’s claims of a ‘changed culture’ continue to ring hollow," said Steven Marks, one of the lawyers representing relatives of passengers who were on board an Ethiopian Airlines Max that crashed in March 2019. “We don’t know what other issues exist.”

Shares of Boeing Co., based in Chicago, fell less than 2% in midday trading.

BC forest industry generates $13 billion, employs 100,000

Forest sector flexes muscle

A new economic impact study by the BC Council of Forest Industries finds the industry generated over $13 billion in GDP in 2019.

The study also found the forest industry supported more than 100,000 jobs, and generated nearly $8.5 billion in wages, salaries, and benefits.

As well, the industry contributed more than $4 billion in government revenue.

“This study demonstrates again that B.C.’s forest products sector is an important part of the provincial economy, putting paycheques in people’s pockets, helping small businesses pay their bills and supporting a good quality of life for British Columbians,” said Susan Yurkovich, president of the council.

The study found one in 25 of all jobs in B.C. are in the forest sector, and are most concentrated in the Cariboo, where they represent 14% of all jobs.

Additionally, the study found that between 2009 and 2019, forest industry companies invested about $14 billion in B.C. operations.

“B.C.’s forest industry is, and will continue to, provide opportunities and benefits for British Columbians for decades to come,” said Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Over 5,300 Indigenous people are directly employed in the industry, more than any other resource sector, and Indigenous communities are key partners in business and stewardship.

In addition to jobs directly tied to forestry, thousands of B.C. companies supply goods and services to the forest industry.

The study found that other businesses across B.C. – from restaurants to corner stores – also rely on a healthy forest sector as workers spend in their local communities.

“Kamloops has been, and continues to be, a hub for regional forestry operations. From equipment supply to pulp manufacturing, forestry is a significant contributor to our GDP and provides millions of dollars annually to support Kamloops families,” said Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian.

“Prince George and other communities across the Cariboo have long recognized just how important the forest industry is to our economy. This industry provides jobs throughout its operations, and it supports many local businesses who rely on the forest sector for their economic prosperity,” added prince George Mayor Lyn Hall.

Postmedia swings to $700,000 profit despite 21% drop in revenue

Postmedia back to profit

The owner of Canada's largest group of newspapers says it earned $700,000 in net profits in its second quarter, an improvement from the same time a year before despite a 21-per-cent revenue decline.

Toronto-based Postmedia Network Canada Corp., publisher of the National Post and other daily newspapers, says its revenue for the three months ended Feb. 28 was $106 million, down from $134.2 million a year earlier — before the economic impact of COVID-19 was a major factor.

Postmedia says this year's second-quarter profit compared with a year-earlier net loss of $12.8 million.

It says the change was primarily due to gains on derivative financial instruments and foreign exchange, higher operating income and lower expenses, partially offset by a $7 million impairment expense.

The revenue decline was attributable to a 29 per cent decrease in print advertising, 21 per cent drop in digital revenue and an 11.6 per cent fall in print circulation revenue.

At the same time, it cut operating expenses by nearly 20 per cent that is expected to save about $5 million per year.

“Our second quarter represents continued progress on our strategy with measured optimism for the future,” CEO Andrew MacLeod said in a statement accompanying the results.

Postmedia says it will reduce debt by $17 million by the end of May, resulting in a decrease of more than 70 per cent of its first lien debt to $67 million from $225 million since its 2016 recapitalization.

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