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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

Apple Computer notifies state; fine issued

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fined Apple Computer $100,000 for selling service contracts without registering, after the company alerted the commissioner's office to the problem.

Apple failed to register as a service-contract provider from 2000 to 2004. In that time the company sold 43,080 service contracts, the commissioner's office said Tuesday.

The office said it has received no complaints about Apple's contracts.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said the company immediately contacted the office once it discovered the problem, and that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company is now properly registered.

Boeing

Nippon Cargo orders more jets

Boeing said Tuesday that Japan-based Nippon Cargo Airlines agreed to purchase two additional 747-400 freighters, with a value of about $460 million at list prices.

Boeing said the order was included on its Web site attributed to an unidentified customer.

The airline previously ordered eight 747-400s, two of which have been delivered.

iJam

Digital venture to disclose details

More details are coming out today about a new digital-music venture led by Ali and Hadi Partovi, 33-year-old twin brothers with a Microsoft pedigree.

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The service, which may debut in test form this summer, will use a proprietary ranking system to help people learn about new music. Code-named iJam, it's described as a "social-music discovery service" for the "iPod and MySpace generation."

Although most of its nearly 20 employees are in Seattle, the venture is being organized under the umbrella of GarageBand.com, a San Francisco-based independent music service led by Ali Partovi. Hadi Partovi, who resigned as manager of the MSN portal and content group last October, will be chief operating officer leading the Seattle engineering office. Former Microsoft developer Nat Brown will be chief technical officer.

Microsoft

Eight critical patches are released

Microsoft released eight "critical" updates Tuesday to patch security holes in its Windows operating system, Internet Explorer browser, Windows Media Player and Office productivity software.

The software maker also released three patches rated "important" and one that was rated "moderate."

Users can go to www.microsoft.com/security to download the patches.

NTSB

Safety board probes 767 engine failure

Safety officials are investigating why a Boeing 767 engine blew up during maintenance at Los Angeles International Airport this month.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday one of the two General Electric-made engines on the American Airlines plane blew apart during a test run. Pieces flew into the fuselage and the other engine, punched holes into the wings and scattered pieces as far as 3,000 feet away.

No one was aboard the jet and no one was hurt. But the possibility an engine might explode in flight prompted investigators to spend four days at the accident scene.

An analysis at the NTSB Materials Laboratory found indications of cracks resulting from metal fatigue.

This week, the agency is supervising a teardown of the engine at an American Airlines maintenance facility in Tulsa, Okla.

U.S.-made engines are regarded as extremely reliable, but there have been problems with fatigue cracking in certain engine parts.

Enron

Law firm aided fraud, suit alleges

Vinson & Elkins, Enron's ex-lead law firm, helped executives at the energy trader orchestrate the accounting fraud that drove it into bankruptcy and caused billions in losses, investors' lawyers claimed in court papers.

Lawyers from the Houston-based law firm misstated Enron's financial strength and gave legal advice justifying earnings manipulations by former Chairman Kenneth Lay and ex-Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling in an effort to protect millions in legal fees, attorneys for Enron shareholders said in a court filing Tuesday.

Investor lawsuits seek to recover $40 billion in losses tied to Enron's 2001 collapse.

The law firm used "manipulative devices and contrivances to help Enron cook its books and merchandize billions in worthless securities," Bill Lerach, the investors' lead lawyer, said in a filing opposing the law firm's bid to have the claims against it thrown out.

eBay

"Skype Me" button to link buyer, seller

eBay said Tuesday it would add a "Skype Me" button to certain categories of listings, allowing prospective buyers to contact sellers directly through the Internet phone service it acquired last year for $2.6 billion.

Those who push the on-screen button will be able to contact sellers by voice, text chat or both to request more information about an item in real time, the online auction pioneer said at a convention in Las Vegas.

"Skype represents a tremendous opportunity for our sellers to connect even more closely with their buyers," said Bill Cobb, president of eBay North America.

"We believe that Skype will enhance the way that people communicate and trade on eBay, especially in high-involvement and high-price categories," he said.

The button will be added Monday on 14 categories of products for which eBay determined instant communication can smooth trade, such as automotive GPS devices, NBA basketball cards, diamond solitaire rings and cars and trucks.

Hewitt Associates

Smaller rate boosts expected for HMOs

Rate increases for health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) are set to decline in 2007 for the fourth consecutive year, but still create challenges for employers, according to a report released Tuesday.

Preliminary figures show HMO rates will jump about 11.7 percent next year, down from initial estimates of 12.4 percent in 2006 and 13.7 percent in 2005, said Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill.

The report was based on a Hewitt Web site that captures initial rates HMOs are offering employers, and the increase may be different after changes in plans, prices and providers.

The final average rate increase was 10 percent this year, and Hewitt believes the jump will be around 7 or 8 percent next year.

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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