By Brendan Sasso and Jennifer Martinez - 05/23/13 10:11 PM EDT
THE LEDE: The chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees released draft legislation on Thursday aimed at cracking down on abusive patent litigation.
The measure is only the latest in a series of proposals to target so-called "patent trolls," but coming from the heads of both committees with jurisdiction over the issue, it indicates that Congress is serious about tackling the problem.
Numerous companies have complained in recent years about being threatened with lawsuits by firms that have no plans to create any products. The patent trolls buy up cheap patents, find companies using similar technologies and then threaten to bring them to court for infringement unless they agree to an expensive settlement.
The draft bill from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would limit the kinds of documents that firms could force their opponents to produce during the discovery phase of a trial, a major cost in patent litigation. The measure would allow the manufacturer of a product to intervene to block cases against its customers over alleged patent infringement and would make a series of changes to the Patent and Trademark Office aimed at helping small businesses participate in the office's decisions.
In a statement, Goodlatte said that patent trolls "have a significant impact on American competitiveness, costing our economy billions of dollars each year."
"It is my hope that this discussion draft is the first step in enacting meaningful legislation that reduces the costs of frivolous litigation, increases patent certainty and promotes the creation of American jobs,” he said.
Leahy vowed to work with both parties and chambers on the issue and said the discussion draft is an "important starting point."
But the legislation was met with skepticism by House Democrats.
Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.), key members of the Judiciary Committee, said the committee should first determine whether there is a problem before proposing legislation.
"Once the Government Accountability Office releases its patent litigation report, as mandated by the America Invents Act, we will be in a better position to answer those questions. We look forward to working on these matters with the Chairman and our colleagues on the Committee," the Democrats said in a joint statement.
FTC to open new antitrust probe on Google: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly opening a new antitrust probe into Google to investigate whether the search company is using its position as the leader in the display advertising market to illegally curb competition, Bloomberg reports. The antitrust division of the Justice Department recently gave the FTC the go-ahead to proceed with its inquiry.
Rockefeller sees "real opportunity" of passing cybersecurity bill: Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Thursday expressed optimism that Congress can pass a cybersecurity bill this session.
"For the first time, I think we see a real opportunity of getting a bipartisan cybersecurity bill," Rockefeller said at a confirmation hearing for Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker. "It will be a miracle if we do it, but as I say, it's the greatest national threat."
Rockefeller said he came to this conclusion after having a "very, very good talk with the chairman of the appropriate committee handling cybersecurity in the House," though he did not reveal the name of the lawmaker he spoke with.
During the start of the confirmation hearing, the Senate Commerce chairman emphasized how important he believes it is for Congress to pass a cybersecurity bill, saying it's "sort of embarrassing" that lawmakers haven't passed legislation yet.
"For four years now, all the defense and intelligence people have declared it the greatest national threat to our security. Not al Qaeda, not others, but cybersecurity," he said.
Rockefeller's first question out of the gate to Pritzker focused on what she would contribute to the department's cybersecurity work.
The Commerce secretary nominee said she "absolutely" understands the threat of cybersecurity thanks to her time in the private sector and would make sure the department develops "a close working relationship with the business sector."
Rockefeller expressed satisfaction with her answer.
The Senate is expected to put forward a bill aimed at protecting the country's critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, just as it did last year. However, the upper chamber is not as far along on its legislative work as it was during the last session.
The House passed a package of bills, including the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, this spring and is awaiting action from the Senate on the issue.
To date, the Senate Commerce, Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees have only held a joint hearing on the issue. However, Rockefeller's comments during the confirmation hearing could signal that the Senate is readying action on cyber in the near term.
Pritzker talks spectrum: Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker said the Commerce Department will need to "look harder" to find government spectrum to give up for commercial use. She said she will continue the administration's support for sharing spectrum bands between government and commercial users.
"I appreciate how important it is that we have spectrum available for just the explosion of the wireless world that we're all living in," she told senators.
Rockefeller bemoaned the lack of progress in the construction of the nationwide wireless network for first-responders.
"If I'm confirmed as secretary of Commerce, it's something that I'll make sure that the board of FirstNet, which is in charge of the implementation, that we work with them so that they understand the urgency and the need to implement this as effectively, and efficiently, and as quickly as possible," Pritzker said.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
McCain urges FCC to consider security risk of Sprint-Softbank deal: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday to consider the potential national security risk of allowing SoftBank, a Japanese company, to buy Sprint.
"As I am sure the Commission is aware, Sprint holds strategic assets, such as its wireless spectrum and fiber network, and has extensive and ongoing relationships throughout the whole government," he wrote in a letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. "With all other relevant facts and circumstances surrounding Softbank's proposed acquisition of Sprint, I hope the Commission duly considers these facts when reviewing this matter."
Goodlatte and Issa defend cutting diversity visa program: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced an immigration bill on Thursday that they said would boost the technology industry in the United States and create more jobs for Americans.
Issa, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the current immigration system forces foreign graduates who have been trained at America's best universities out of the country after they have received their diplomas in technical fields — and his legislation aims to rectify that.
FCC: Supreme Court ruling bolsters net-neutrality defense: A recent Supreme Court ruling undercut Verizon's lawsuit against net-neutrality regulations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) argued in a court filing on Thursday.
The agency argued that, based on the Supreme Court's ruling this week in Arlington v. FCC, it should be given deference to interpret its own authority, and the appeals court should reject Verizon's lawsuit.
GOP demands Justice explain subpoenaing of AP phone records: Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are pressing the Justice Department for proof it exhausted all other means before secretly subpoenaing the records of at least 20 Associated Press phone lines.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) posed nearly a dozen questions to Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter shared with The Hill on Thursday.