OVERNIGHT TECH: Senate patent talk heats up

THE LEDE: The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to delay substantive consideration of a bill to curb “patent trolls” that was originally scheduled for Thursday.

The panel was previously scheduled to take a mark up the bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Thursday, but observers expect that the markup will begin Thursday and get largely pushed back to next Tuesday. The Senate panel was originally scheduled to consider the issue last week.  

Lawmakers on the panel said the delay was an indication that an agreement is close but still out of reach.   

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“It’s a sign that there is negotiations going on but people aren’t there yet,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The Hill on Wednesday. “It’s difficult negotiations. But it’s a sign that hope is alive.”

“I want legislation, I don’t want talk. We’ll get legislation,” added Leahy, who declined to get into specifics about the status of negotiations.

Lawmakers have been eager to take on the trolls, companies that launch a barrage of lawsuits to try to extract costly settlements, but have been reticent to take action that could also affect inventors at universities or small startups.

On Tuesday, Schumer seemed to back off a provision he had been pushing to provide extra scrutiny for software patents, which had been one of the points of contention. Lawmakers have also butted heads on the degree to which losers in a patent suit should be forced to pay for winner’s court fees, a process known as fee-shifting, among other measures.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has introduced a bill to make it harder to bring frivolous patent suits, said that the committee was “still not there” on the new bill. “The question is can we get a bill that everybody can support or at least that will do the job. And fee-shifting’s not enough,” he said. “There needs to be some real work on that bill. Sen. Leahy knows it and hopefully he’ll work with people like me to get it done right.”

As the committee closes in on a final patent bill to consider, tech groups are increasing their advocacy around the issue in the hopes of getting their preferred provisions in Leahy’s final managers package. Engine and the Consumer Electronics Association — two trade groups that have been vocal proponents of bills to curb “patent trolls” — brought startup founders to D.C. to advocate on issues affect the tech industry, including patent reform. According to the group’s schedule, startup founders had an hour-and-a-half-long meeting with patent staffers.

On the other side of the issue, the Alliance of U.S. Startups and Inventors for Jobs — a group of inventors, including of biotech companies — also held a fly-in on Wednesday. Members of the group met with lawmakers and held a briefing to advocate against patent reform measures that they say could harm inventors.

“For American innovation to continue to thrive, we must have a strong patent system that encourages innovation, attracts investors, grows our economy and creates good jobs,” Louis Foreman, CEO of patent licensing firm Edison Nation — which co-hosted the fly-in — said in a statement. “That very innovation economy is in jeopardy thanks to this legislation, which would discourage invention and seriously undermine the ability of start-ups to raise capital to fund their companies and new inventions.”

The Innovation Alliance, along with patent-holding companies from the tech sector and other industries, sent a letter to Leahy and Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asking the lawmakers to move forward with legislation only if it protects patent holders.

“As it stands, many of the provisions [being considered] assume that every patent holder is a patent troll,” the companies wrote. “Drafting legislation in this way seriously weakens the ability of every patent holder to enforce a patent."

Tech industry backs administration’s Internet plan: As Congress turns its attention to fears over who controls the Internet, the tech industry is rallying behind the Obama administration, which recently announced it would be relinquishing its oversight role of the technical side of the Internet’s Web address system. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced last month that it would be stepping back from its oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority under a plan to be developed by global Internet multistakeholders.

In a letter to the leadership of the House Commerce subcommittee on Technology, which held a hearing on the topic Wednesday, the Internet Association praised the move as a step towards a more global Internet.

“We do not believe inter-governmental bodies are the right way to govern the Internet,” the group — which includes Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn — wrote. “Instead, we should look for innovative solutions involving the breadth of the Internet community.”

Facebook added its voice to the chorus. "The historic model of multi-stakeholder governance has delivered a secure, interoperable network accessible to all,” Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications, said in a statement. “NTIA's proposal will enhance those efforts and help ensure the Internet remains a truly global resource,” he said.

Eshoo optimistic on Web tax ban:  Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooNadler wins steering panel vote for Judiciary Committee post Nadler wins steering committee vote for Judiciary post Impeachment looms over Dem choice on Judiciary MORE (D-Calif.) thinks Congress can knock out her bill to ban state and local taxes on Internet service by the end of the year.  

“I think we’ll get it done,” she told the American Cable Association’s summit on Wednesday. She noted that the effort, called the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, has more than 160 co-sponsors, “which to tell you the truth is unheard of.”

“I think that we can get this done before the end of the 113th Congress,” she said.

The bill would prohibit taxes on Web access or other digital items like emails, but would not touch on the tricky issue of online sales tax.

Tech, consumer, privacy groups back Aereo: A host of advocacy and trade groups filed court briefs defending Web TV service Aereo’s case against broadcasters before the Supreme Court. The call from consumer interest organizations, the Consumer Electronics Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are a boost to the company weeks ahead of the April 22 arguments.

In their joint friend-of-the-court brief, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union said that the service, which relies on a system of tiny antennas to beam broadcast signals to people’s computers or mobile devices, was legal and gave consumers the right to watch the programs they chose.

Another brief from thethe Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and the tech start-up coalition Engine Advocacy said that the court should refrain from making any decisions to outline the boundaries of copyright law. That’s a matter for Congress to decide, they said, if it so chooses.

“The Court’s longstanding approach in copyright cases has been to avoid acting as a technology regulator, avoid determining the worth of businesses, and leave it to Congress to determine whether a disruptive technology requires rebalancing of express statutory rights,” the groups wrote. “That approach better serves copyright’s purpose, and is the right guide here.”

FCC unveils April agenda: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to take a look at continuing updates to ensure mobile service for all Americans and free up room on the airwaves at its April open meeting. The session is scheduled for April 23 at the FCC’s Washington headquarters. 

Privacy group warns of 'consumer scoring': The World Privacy Forum issued a report Wednesday warning of vast data collection and analytic operations that can “score” consumers. According to the report, government agencies, employers and more “routinely use hundreds of secret and unregulated consumer scores to make literally thousands of predictions,” such as a person’s financial status or whether a person is ill or pregnant.

“These scores offer predictions that can become consumers’ destiny, whether they are right or wrong,” World Privacy Forum Executive Director Pam Dixon said in a statement. “Fair use of scores that consumers can see and correct is one thing, but secret scores can hide discrimination, unfairness, and bias.”

 

ON TAP

In the morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will sit down for a conversation at an event sponsored by National Journal.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will deliver a speech on fighting patent abuse at the American Enterprise Institute at 9:00 a.m.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) will talk about cybercrime on Capitol Hill at 9:15.

The Judiciary Committee’s talk about the patent bill gets underway at 10:00.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Republicans in the House and Senate want answers from the Obama administration about whether a recent Commerce Department decision will threaten the open Internet.

Nearly half the nation's adults changed their behavior online because of the National Security Agency’s snooping programs, according to a new poll. 

The Securities and Exchange Commission defended its practice of obtaining emails older than 180 days without a warrant.

The top Democrat on the House panel in charge of telecommunications issues wants to shift the balance of power between broadcasters and paid television companies like cable and satellite firms. 

Bitcoin could help small businesses cut costs and lower their prices, but it also presents a number of risks, lawmakers said Wednesday. 

 

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