Web lobby warns court about ‘widespread disruption’ online

Major Internet companies are warning a federal court that the outcome of a landmark trade case could put the future of the Internet at risk.

The Internet Association — which includes Google, Facebook and other industry giants — filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief on Friday. The case involves the authority of the International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent agency that gives advice on trade policy.

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The Web group warned that the trade commission’s claim to have jurisdiction over electronic data sent into the U.S. could “risk widespread disruption of the global Internet and to essential American economic interests.”

By law, the ITC has the ability to block foreign “articles” from entering the U.S. if they infringe on another’s rights.

Recently, the agency weighed in on a case between two companies using digital data sets to make devices to fix people’s teeth, arguing that the transmission of digital data into the country amounted to a violation of intellectual property rights.

But the Internet Association argued in its brief that the ITC has jurisdiction only over objects, not data, and should reverse its decision.

“Electronic transmissions lack the tangible, physical embodiment necessary to be eligible for patent-law protection,” it claimed.

“[A] digital signal cannot infringe a valid U.S. patent,” it added.

Abigail Slater, the association’s vice president of legal and regulatory policy, said the outcome of the case “has enormous implications for cloud computing, the free flow of information between countries and the future of a free and open Internet.”

“The ITC believes it can use patent law to regulate all electronic data entering the United States,” she said in a statement. “We believe the commission’s position is unlawful, unenforceable, and harmful to global Internet commerce.”