This Week in Tech: Senators seek breakthrough on patent reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee next week is once again scheduled to mark up a patent reform bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The bill, which takes aim at “patent trolls,” the companies that profit by bringing and threatening meritless patent infringement cases, was initially on the committee’s markup schedule for late March.

ADVERTISEMENT
Leahy delayed action on the bill multiple times as he sought a compromise with support from members on both sides of the aisle. Senators plan to consider the bill during an executive session on Thursday.

Before recess, Leahy said he wanted to introduce the bipartisan compromise version of his bill on Monday, but observers are waiting to see if he can reach consensus on patent reform’s most contentious issues in time for the manager’s amendment to be published for Thursday’s meeting.

A strong bipartisan vote for the bill in committee would give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) more reason to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The House passed its patent reform bill, the Innovation Act by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), last year in a bipartisan vote.

One patent lobbyist said Leahy has “a 50-50” chance of getting his committee members on the same page before releasing an updated bill Monday.

One main sticking point for the committee has been the issue of “fee shifting,” or requiring the loser of an unreasonable lawsuit to pay the winner’s fees. While advocates of the proposal, including Senate Judiciary Republicans John Cornyn (Texas) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), say it will keep frivolous lawsuits out of court, critics worry that a fee-shifting provision will close to court door to small innovators.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Cornyn have worked out a compromise on “several portions of the bill” including fee shifting, according to a Senate aide. “It is the sincere hope of members on both sides, that Chairman Leahy accepts this compromise.”

Elsewhere in tech happenings, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in two cases that could determine whether police can search a person’s cellphone when they are arrested.

Under the law, cops are able to search a person and their belongings “incident to arrest” without a warrant, to ensure that they aren’t carrying any weapons and that evidencewon’t be destroyed. The question before the court is whether or not that should include cellphones.

The two cases, Riley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie, deal with gang members and drug dealers who had their phones checked out by police without a warrant. Information from the phones was later used as evidence against them.

The Obama administration and other law enforcement officers have said that cellphones can contain detailed evidence that should be preserved, but privacy rights groups have warned the searches could violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The court will also hear two different patent cases this week.

On Monday, it will take a look at a case about ambiguous patent claims in Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, and on Wednesday will examine whether a company is infringing on a software patent even if it only performs some of the steps and tells customers to perform the rest.

Tech groups are hoping the high court overturns the federal circuit ruling in the second case, Limelight Networks v. Akamai Technologies, or else it could spell a wave of new litigation against their industry.

Also on Tuesday, the Department of Commerce will hold another meeting to develop privacy guidelines for facial recognition technology. Tuesday’s meeting — the fourth in a series to bring together privacy advocates and tech companies to address privacy concerns of facial recognition technology — will focus on hypothetical and actual uses of the tech.

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on “how technology can promote consumer financial literacy.”

On Thursday morning, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is holding a hearing on ways technology can help medicine.

In Los Angeles, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association is staging its annual Cable Show. Trade association head Michael Powell is kicking things off on Tuesday, and executives from Time Warner Cable, Comcast and other cable companies are set to speak. On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will deliver remarks and sit for a conversation about the industry.

On Tuesday, eBay is flying in small-business owners to lobby their members of Congress on global trade issues and Internet sales tax proposals. The House Judiciary Committee is examining proposals that would allow states to collect an online sales tax from remote retailers, following the Senate’s passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act last year.