This, belatedly, is the third installment of my discussion of the court-of-appeals decision in Sherley v. Sebelius, which reversed the lower court’s conclusion that the federal government is forbidden from funding research on human embryonic stem cells. The first two installments are here (part 1) and here (part 2); you should read them first if you haven’t done so already or if they’ve faded from your memory. (As before, I’ll note that I represent the Genetics Policy Institute as an amicus curiae in the case, supporting the government.)
One of the points of disagreement between the majority opinion and the dissent was over how to interpret the Dickey-Wicker Amendment’s use of the present tense (“research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed…”). The dispute arises because a line of stem cells derived from a particular embryo can be kept in existence indefinitely and as a result can provide stem cells for research that is performed many years later. For example, under the Bush-administration guidelines, federal funding was available only for research projects that used stem cells that had been derived before August 9, 2001, when the Bush policy was announced. And NIH maintains a registry of stem-cell lines that qualify for use in federally-funded research. There is therefore a good chance that an applicant seeking NIH funds will use stem cells from a preexisting cell line.
The majority rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the government may not fund research using such a preexisting line of stem cells, and in doing so the Dickey-Wicker Amendment’s use of the present tense played a big part:
This is the second installment of my look at the recent court of appeals decision in Sherley v. Sebelius, the litigation over federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The first installment, which sets the stage, is here. And before I begin, let me repeat that I represent the Genetics Policy Institute as an amicus curiae in support of the government in the case, and that some of what I say here will be adapted from my brief.
I ended my last post by noting that one of the points of disagreement between the majority and the dissent was about whether the word research could be understood to denote a “discrete project.” The majority concluded that the word as used in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment could in fact be understood in that way—an understanding under which the focus is on the specific work for which funding is sought:
NIH funding decisions are forward-looking, requiring the NIH to “determine whether what is proposed to be funded meets with its requirements.” Therefore, a grant application to support research that includes the derivation of stem cells would have to be rejected….The definition of research is flexible enough to describe either a discrete project or an extended process, but this flexibility only reinforces our conclusion that the text is ambiguous. [paragraph break deleted]
You’re no doubt aware by now that Apple and Microsoft have hired linguists as expert witnesses in their battle before the Patent and Trademark Office about whether Apple can trademark the expression App Store. Robert Leonard is testifying (actually, report-ifying) for Apple and Ron Butters is doing the same for Microsoft. Their reports are available here (Leonard) and here (Butters), and the electronic docket for the case, with links to the other filings, is here. (Warning: a few of the links seem to be broken.)
The issue that Leonard and Butters are opining about is whether the expression App Store is a proper name that distinctively identifies the particular location in cyberspace where one goes to get apps for one’s iPhone, as Apple contends, or whether it is a generic term for stores where one gets apps of any kind, as Microsoft argues.
I’m not going to comment here on who I think should win this fight, but I do want to make a few observation about some broader (and narrower) issues, starting with a look at how genericness (a/k/a genericity) is regarded in trademark law on the one hand and in linguistics on the other.