OVERNIGHT TECH: Senate takes next steps on patents

THE LEDE: The Senate is moving forward with its effort to reform the patent litigation system, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has taken aim at patent trolls, or companies that bring and threaten to bring frivolous infringement lawsuits in the hopes of extracting settlements.

Leahy’s committee announced Thursday that it would begin considering the bill from the chairman and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) at an executive session on March 27.

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The markup follows a hearing late last year and a set of Senate staff briefings earlier this year that drilled down into some of the more controversial provisions being proposed by members of the Judiciary Committee, including adding the opportunity for extra scrutiny of software patents, requiring the losing party to pay the winning party’s legal fees in frivolous infringement lawsuits and allowing manufacturers to intervene in infringement cases brought against customers.

In a statement, Leahy said he is “committed to ensuring we move forward with meaningful legislation this spring.” His committee’s members “have been working on meaningful, targeted legislation to combat patent abuses in our system,” he said, adding that he looks “forward to the Committee considering this important legislation.”

Also on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced her Patent Fee Integrity Act, which would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to hold on to the fees it collects from users who file patent applications. Supporters of the bill and other similar efforts say ending fee diversion from the Patent Office will increase patent quality by more fully supporting the office.

“If we fail to support the PTO and reduce delays in the patent process, we are contributing to a decline in American ingenuity, and that is something we should all work hard to avoid,” Feinstein said in a statement introducing her bill, which is backed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The Senate movement builds on House action on patent reform from late last year. In December, the House passed the Innovation Act, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), which also targeted frivolous lawsuits.

GOP blasts FCC sales agreement guidance: Top House Republicans are protesting a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) effort to give extra scrutiny to broadcaster deals to share resources. On Thursday, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on Communications said that the commission’s guidance “flies in the face of reform” and “reveals an alarming disregard for process.”

“This end-run around the full commission is a step back for transparency and reform, and sadly, consumers are the ones who stand to lose the most,” committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a joint statement.

On Wednesday evening, the FCC’s media bureau said that it has seen “an increasing number” of proposals for broadcasters to share services, facilities or employees in recent months. Going forward, it pledged to “closely scrutinize” applications where two broadcasters in the same market try to share resources or enter into legal deals.

The action came days after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission would consider limiting the joint arrangements, as part of an effort to limit media consolidation.

Soon after the guidance was released, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said that the effort “raises very serious procedural and substantive concerns.”

Privacy board sets new hearing date: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will hold a hearing in Washington next Wednesday to talk about a law allowing the government to pick up foreign people’s information. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, a law first passed in 2008 and reauthorized in 2012, allows the government to collect information on foreign people “reasonably believed” to be outside the U.S. as long as they make a specific effort to avoid data about Americans.

The controversial portion of the law was cited by the National Security Agency (NSA) as the legal justification for its PRISM program, which tapped into networks run by Google, Facebook and other top Web companies. The program was revealed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“The Board will evaluate both legal and policy issues concerning operation of the program, and consider recommendations to ensure that U.S. Government counterterrorism efforts properly balance the need to protect privacy and civil liberties,” it said in a notice.   

The privacy board dealt a major blow to the NSA in January, when it ruled on a 3-2 vote that the agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal and should be halted.  

FCC allows AT&T to buy Leap: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved AT&T’s $1 billion purchase of Leap Wireless, which owns Cricket Wireless. As part of the deal, the No. 2 wireless carrier made voluntary commitments to sell off some spectrum and build out service in parts of southern Texas, where Cricket holds a significant market share.

“Based on our review of the record and in light of these commitments, which become conditions to our approval, we find that the public interest benefits of the proposed transaction outweigh the likelihood of significant public interest harms, such that overall, the proposed transaction is in the public interest,” commission said in its order. 

Dem super-PAC spokesman heads to Facebook: Andy Stone, communications director for the Democratic super-PAC House Majority PAC, is joining Facebook as a manager of the policy communications team in Washington, an official confirmed to The Hill on Thursday. Before running the communications operations for the political action committee, Stone was Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) press secretary and handled regional press for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Online ad group touts privacy compliance: The Network Advertising Initiative released its annual compliance report Thursday, noting that all of the 88 members participating in the review met the organization’s “rigorous standards for providing notice and choice around interest-based advertising.” The group has a total of 97 third-party advertisers as members, and all members except for new members — who are subject to a separate review — participate in the annual compliance report.

“In completing the compliance process, we demonstrate to regulators, business partners, and consumers that membership in the NAI is not a mere promise to meet high standards. It is a serious obligation,” Doug Miller, chairman of the the group’s Board of Directors, said in a statement.

In an interview, Marc Groman, the group’s executive director, said he is “very excited” about the NAI’s plans for next year, including addressing new technology.

“What lies ahead is obviously expanding our compliance program as our membership grows not only in size but in diversity,” he said.

 

ON TAP

The New America Foundation is hosting an event on “civil rights and big data” starting at 9:00 a.m.

 

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