Pacific Northwest Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill yesterday that establishes the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a $350 million, 10-year...

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Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill yesterday that establishes the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a $350 million, 10-year commitment by the state to bankroll biomedical and agricultural research.


Gregoire signed the bill in a ceremony at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The bill sets up an 11-member board of trustees that will review grant applications. Four reviewers will be legislators and seven will be appointed by the governor. Gregoire’s office said in a statement that grant applications will be judged on their potential health impact and job growth, and for geographic diversity.


The fund is supposed to start delivering grants in 2008. The money comes from a bonus payment the state is due to receive for its leading role in litigation against tobacco companies in the late 1990s.


RealNetworks



Yahoo! music plan called “a relief”

A top executive of RealNetworks said yesterday that the Seattle music and media company would not be drawn into a price war with Yahoo!, whose plans to aggressively compete in online music have battered RealNetworks’ stock.


Chief Financial Officer Roy Goodman also described as “a relief” Yahoo!’s announcement earlier this week that it would offer a low-priced music-subscription service, saying he failed to see “any new technical breakthrough” in the plan.


Goodman’s comments, made at a Piper Jaffray investor conference in New York, came as RealNetworks’ stock price continued to sink on fears of stiff competition from Yahoo! Shares fell 52 cents, or 9 percent, to $5.24 yesterday, after tumbling 21 percent the day before.


Yahoo! said it would start with an introductory price of $4.99 a month for an annual subscription or $6.99 on a monthly basis. RealNetworks’ Rhapsody service charges about $9.99 a month for unlimited streams on demand and other features. With portability, monthly subscriptions run about $15.


Microsoft



CEO says he’ll stay “12 more years”

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said he expects to remain at the helm of the world’s largest software maker for about 12 more years.


Ballmer, 49, said he’ll stay on about as long as it takes his son, now in kindergarten, to graduate from high school.


“I’ve got a kindergartner who will be out of high school in 12 years. I’ll be 61. That seems about right,” Ballmer told students of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


Microsoft



Gates: iTunes’ success won’t last

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates says Apple Computer shouldn’t get too comfortable atop the portable-music-playing world.


“I don’t think the success of the iPod can continue in the long term, however good Apple may be,” Gates was quoted in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday. “I think you can draw parallels here with the computer; here, too, Apple was once extremely strong with its Macintosh and graphic user interface, like with the iPod today, and then lost its position.”


Compiled from Seattle Times business staff, Reuters, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press



Nation/World



United Airlines



Court ruling, trial loom over union talks

CHICAGO — United Airlines and its ramp-workers and mechanics unions intensified contract negotiations yesterday, pushing to settle their differences before a bankruptcy court rules on their high-risk showdown over labor costs.


Against the urgent backdrop of strike threats by three employee groups, United held separate contract talks at local hotels with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers even as a courtroom trial pitting management versus employees unfolded.


The Machinists union said recent progress pointed to a likely agreement by the time the trial ends next week, which would avert the need for a ruling likely to carry grave consequences for both the airline and its workers.


Ford Motor



CEO refuses salary until sales improve

Ford Motor Chief Executive William Clay Ford Jr. said he will stop being paid until the company’s automotive results improve.


Ford, 48, who was paid $22.2 million last year, told investors at the company’s annual shareholders meeting yesterday that he will “forgo any compensation at all” until auto operations results improve.


Ford Motor, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, forecast last month that its auto operations will break even at best. “That’s not acceptable to me,” Ford said yesterday at the Wilmington, Del., meeting.


Falling U.S. market share and competition from Asian automakers such as Toyota Motor threaten to end Ford Motor’s three-year streak of improved earnings. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor is relying on auto lending to keep it profitable as its vehicle sales slump.


Free-trade agreement



Bush courts leaders from Central America

WASHINGTON — President Bush tried yesterday to break congressional resistance to a free-trade agreement with Central American nations by arguing that open markets will help improve security and promote freedom in the Western Hemisphere.


Bush welcomed the presidents of the Dominican Republic and the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to the White House for a private Oval Office meeting and a public show of unity in the Rose Garden.


Bush signed the pact last May, but it needs the approval of Congress. The agreement, known as CAFTA, is supported by business groups who say it will open up new markets for U.S. exporters. But many labor, human-rights and immigration groups are working equally hard to defeat it because they say it will do little to correct abuses of workers and the environment.


Cisco Systems



SEC will consider stock-options plan

Cisco Systems, the leading maker of equipment computer networking gear, is seeking regulatory approval for letting the market determine the value of its employee stock options.


The effort could lessen the effect of stock-option expensing on Cisco’s bottom line and have a broad impact across the technology sector, if successful.


Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson left open the possibility that the agency would approve Cisco’s plans.


“I think it’s a very interesting approach,” he told reporters after a speech yesterday.


Sabre Holdings



Texas firm grabs lead in online travel service

Sabre Holdings, the owner of Travelocity.com, agreed to acquire Britain’s Lastminute.com for $1.08 billion to overtake Cendant as Europe’s largest online travel service.


Southlake, Texas-based Sabre will pay about $3 a share, according to a joint statement released yesterday.


Sabre and competitors Cendant and Expedia, owned by Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, are carving up the Internet travel industry as more people buy airline tickets and hotel rooms over the Web.


HealthSouth



2 counts dismissed in founder’s fraud trial

The judge in the accounting fraud trial of HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy dismissed two more criminal charges, leaving 36 counts for jurors to weigh when they begin deliberations next week.


U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre dismissed two counts involving conversations with Scrushy that former finance chief William Owens secretly recorded for the FBI in March 2003. Bowdre said the tapes failed to prove that Scrushy obstructed justice or encouraged Owens to violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which makes it a crime to certify false financial reports.


Scrushy, 52, is accused of inflating profit at HealthSouth by $2.7 billion from 1996 to 2002. Bowdre has dismissed 10 counts of a 58-count indictment since the trial began Jan. 25, including two of the three Sarbanes-Oxley charges. Jurors will not be asked to consider 12 criminal forfeiture counts in the indictment, the judge ruled at the beginning of the trial. They will hear closing arguments Monday and begin deliberations later.


Compiled from The Associated Press, Dow Jones/AP and Bloomberg News