Hatch outlines GOP's tech agenda

Greg Nash

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchA bipartisan bright spot we can’t afford to pass up: child welfare reform Medicare trust fund running out of money fast Long past time to fix evidence-sharing across borders MORE (R-Utah) on Tuesday outlined his priorities for technology legislation in the next Congress, keying in on patent and immigration reform, as well as updates to email privacy protections. 

Hatch, the chairman of the GOP's High-Tech Task Force, delivered remarks at the Overstock.com corporate office in his home state, arguing the United States must create a legal framework to stay ahead of other global competitors. 

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“Government’s proper role is to act as a facilitator, creating an environment that encourages research and development to drive our prosperity and quality of life in the decades to come,” warning against “heavy-handed” regulation. 

Republicans will take a greatly increased role in shaping the agenda in the next Congress if they net the six seats needed to take back the Senate. Most observers see that as a likely outcome just two weeks ahead of the election. 

So-called patent trolls are having a cripple effect on the technology industry and innovation, Hatch said. He called for legislation to help thwart companies that bring frivolous patent infringement lawsuits against developers.  

The suits cost the economy $60 billion a year, he said. 

"Through abusive and meritless litigation, patent trolls — which are often shell companies that do not make or sell anything — seek to extort settlements from innovators throughout the country," Hatch said. 

Legislation stalled in the current Congress after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told lawmakers he would not bring it to the floor out of concerns from other industries. 

Hatch called for creating a way for companies to recover fees from patent trolls and increasing court standards for those threatening legal action. 

He also called for multiple updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a nearly three-decades-old law that is governing the protection of online communications. The law currently allows law enforcement to access emails older than 180 days or those that have already been opened with a subpoena, rather than requiring a warrant. 

An update is also needed to prevent the government from accessing data stored overseas, he said. 

"ECPA is silent on the privacy standard for accessing data stored abroad. For that reason alone, Congress should amend the law," he said. 

On immigration, Hatch said there is agreement on reforming the rules governing high-tech visas, known as H-1b visas. But he said President Obama and other Democrats have to drop their insistence on passing comprehensive reform or nothing. 

"They demand comprehensive reform that addresses all of our immigration problems in a single bill, or nothing at all," he said. 

Hatch noted that he voted for a comprehensive bill in the Senate last year, but that small steps like visa reform could "help pave the way for additional and more far reaching reforms.” 

In his prepared speech, he touched on a number of other issues, including reducing the tax burden on corporations, having businesses and the government voluntarily share information on cybersecurity, and expressing his opposition to net neutrality rules. Excerpts of the remarks are below. 

NET NEUTRALITY 

"Net neutrality is a terrible idea,” he said. “The last thing we need is government telling [Internet service providers] how to carve up bandwidth. Keep the Internet free and it will continue to drive our economy forward.”

CYBERSECURITY 

He said Congress should remove the risk of legal action against companies that share information with the government about cyber crime. 

“Currently, businesses are reluctant to share information because they fear legal repercussions," he said. "But the government and the private sector must work together to fend off cyberattacks."

“A voluntary, non-regulatory approach is most likely to yield consensus legislation," he added.  

TAX REFORM 

"At 35 percent, our corporate tax rate is the highest in the developed world and is a chokehold on the economy. That is unacceptable. I hope we can get the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent," he said, adding that Congress should make the research and development tax credit permanent. 

TRADE SECRETS

"It is past time to enact trade secret legislation that enables U.S. companies to protect their trade secrets in federal court," he said, adding, "Trade secrets are the only form of U.S. intellectual property where misuse does not provide its owner with a federal private right of action."