OVERNIGHT TECH: Leahy hopeful for Tuesday patent markup

THE LEDE: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said late on Monday that he is hopeful his committee will consider his patent reform bill during a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

“As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I am committed to ensuring we move forward with meaningful legislation to support businesses and combat abuses in the patent system,” he said, adding that he “hopes” to begin consideration of a compromise patent reform bill on Tuesday.

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The committee has already twice delayed consideration of the bill from Leahy and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — which aims to curb “patent trolls,” or companies that profit by bringing and threatening to bring patent infringement lawsuits — as Leahy works with members of the committee to find compromise on some contentious provisions being added to his bill.

Republicans, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), have pushed Leahy to include provisions that would require the losing party of a meritless suit to pay the winning party’s fees. While advocates for these “fee-shifting” provisions say the measure would deter frivolous lawsuits, opponents — including some Democrats on the committee — say the provision could keep legitimate innovators out of court for fear of incurring twice as many legal fees.

Leahy had said at a committee meeting last week that he thought he was close to compromise on these and other contentious provisions and that he hoped to reach an agreement on a manager’s amendment by the end of the week so that members would have time to consider the revised bill before Tuesday’s markup. Negotiations continued through the weekend and into Monday, and no manager’s amendment was published by close of business Monday.

“Weekend negotiations on this complex issue were positive, and I am confident we are closer to solidifying a bipartisan agreement that incorporates the ideas of many members,” Leahy said. He added that he scheduled Tuesday’s markup so that “all members [will] have the opportunity to debate this legislation.”

The House Commerce subcommittee on Trade will also examine the patent system Tuesday with a hearing on demand letters, or the letters that patent trolls send to companies threatening infringement lawsuits in the hopes that recipients will settle. The committee will hear testimony from representatives of Cisco, the American Bankers Association, the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform and UNeMed Corporation, as well as New York University Law Professor Jason Schultz and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell.

Broadcaster head criticizes FCC: The head of the National Association of Broadcasters wants regulators to do more to help out his industry. In keynote remarks at the association’s annual trade show, Gordon Smith said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is trying to have it both ways by limiting broadcasters’ operations as if they were titans but allowing them to disappear like “dinosaurs.”

"The FCC has continued to regulate broadcasters as if the world is stuck in the 1970s," he said. "If the commission is really serious about competition, it will study how broadcasting can be a competitive check on the cable and wireless industries. ... Without broadcasting, who will carry out the public interest mandates of diversity and localism, to say nothing of children's programming, political events and observing decency standards of local communities?"

Broadcasters have opposed the FCC’s recent move to limit companies’ ability to cooperate when negotiating advertising rates. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is scheduled to address the crowd on Tuesday. 

Panel reveals Comcast-Time Warner Cable witness list: Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday along with Time Warner Cable Executive Vice President Arthur Minson and the head of the consumer interest group Public Knowledge, as well as the leaders of smaller cable and Internet companies and a law professor.

The panel will press the cable executives about whether or not the proposed $45 billion merger would be good for consumers. Lawmakers have been generally reluctant to weigh in too heavily before the hearing, but Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has been a vocal critic of the deal. He has alleged that the acquisition could lead to higher costs and worse service for people across the country.

Wednesday’s hearing will be one of the most public forums for the debate, but it won’t have a direct effect on whether or not the deal goes thorugh. The real action will be at the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, where regulators will evaluate whether it passes muster on antitrust and consumer interest grounds.

Commerce panel sets DOTCOM Act markup: The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology and Communications will start to mark up a bill blocking the U.S. handoff of control of the Internet address system on the afternoon of April 9 and finish on the morning of April 10, Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced on Monday. The Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act calls for a formal study before the Commerce Department gives up an oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. The bill was introduced by six Republicans earlier this year. 

“Make no mistake, threats to the openness and freedom of the Internet are real, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle once any kind of transition begins,” Walden said in a video statement on Monday. “We must do all we can to protect freedom of the Internet and ensure countries such as Russia and China, and others like Iran, keep their hands off of the Internet.” 

Commerce names 11 entrepreneurship ambassadors: The Commerce Department announced nearly a dozen members of a new initiative to encourage entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world, including a number of tech faces. Among the inaugural members of the Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship initiative are the heads of LinkedIn, iRobot and Zillow.

In a statement Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said that the members “will seek to increase the number of successful startups in the U.S. and around the globe, spurring economic growth and job creation.”

 

ON TAP

Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the house Judiciary Committee at 10:00 a.m. Lawmakers are likely to ask about the Obama administration’s proposal to reform the country’s spy agencies. 

Also at 10:00, a House Commerce subcommittee will take a look at “abusive” patent demand letters.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a Tuesday morning event on “the economic impact of big data.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is speaking at the broadcaster association at noon. The other four members on the commission will speak later in the day.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The tech industry is making an aggressive push to get patent reform across the finish line as senators haggle over the details of the legislation.

A court has sided with the Federal Trade Commission's attempt to punish companies for poor security standards that lead to data breaches.

A former lawmaker involved in the sweeping rewrite of communications laws in 1996 says he regrets giving too much discretion to the Federal Communications Commission.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined an initial challenge to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of information about the public's telephone calls.

 

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