Tech sector looks to bounce back in 2015

The tech sector is looking to bounce back from a lackluster year in which few of its priorities got across the finish line in Congress.

But for an industry still reeling from defeats on multiple fronts, the window for action in 2015 may not be open for long.

As presidential campaigns start to get off the ground, the chances actual legislative progress are increasingly threatened by grandstanding politicians out to make a name for themselves.
“Of course” politics could derail progress, said Dean Garfield, the head of the Information Technology Industry Council. “We live in a democracy, so politics is always at play.”
However, there are multiple signs that some major issues can move before next summer, when potential campaigners start hitting the trails in earnest.
“I’m hopeful that we will at least have a window of time here in the next six to eight months — before things get too intense in the presidential race — where a lot of good things can happen,” said Linda Moore, president of TechNet, a network of tech executives.

At the top of the list is patent reform, a low-profile issue that companies say is necessary to protect them from “trolls” who buy up patent licenses and then file harassing lawsuits with vague claims that firms are infringing their licenses. Those lawsuits cost billions of dollars each year, companies estimate.
The effort failed to get through the Democratic-led Senate this year — even after President Obama made an appeal in his State of the Union address — largely because of opposition from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
A change in power ought to get rid of that roadblock and allow the GOP to put easy points on the board as they prove to show they can govern effectively.
“I think the change in the Senate is a good thing for patent reform,” said Craig Albright, a top lobbyist with BSA | The Software Alliance. “And that change is important for the prospects of getting patent reform done and it’s one of the reasons why we’re optimistic.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican and a central character in this year’s negotiations on the issue, told reporters last month that he expected something to move in the first three months of the year “at least.”
“I think patent reform is going to be one of the first bills we see moving in the new Congress,” added Julie Samuels, executive director of the startup advocacy organization Engine.
Another point of hope for the tech sector early next year is the looming fight over the National Security Agency (NSA).
Tech firms say that Edward Snowden’s leaks about the spy agency have cost them billions of dollars, because the global public has lost trust in their services. The companies mounted a vigorous effort to rein in the NSA this year, though that ultimately fell flat when supporters in the Senate came up two votes shy of meeting the necessary 60-vote threshold.
A key portion of the Patriot Act allowing the NSA to collect and search Americans’ cell phone records — one of the most controversial operations exposed by Snowden — is set to expire on June 1 unless some type of bill reforming or reauthorizing it is passed. National security hawks have said that losing the program entirely would be disastrous for the country, setting up a major fight in the first few months of 2015.
Without reform, “the law will expire, which is not an outcome that is the preference for anyone,” said Albright, the software lobbyist. “That deadline will be action-forcing.”
Republican control of Congress may also boost the chances that lawmakers grant Obama “fast-track” authority to speed up trade negotiations, which companies say would help them sell software, hardware and programming to the billions of consumers who don’t live in the U.S.
GOP leadership in both chambers may also increase the odds of tax reform, something that the White House and congressional Republicans have unsuccessfully haggled over for years.
In his end-of-the-year press conference, Obama planned to unveil “some pretty specific proposals” on reforming the tax code.
Republicans “are serious about wanting to get some things done,” Obama said. “The tax area is one area where we can get things done.”
Tech companies, like many other businesses, would love to see that happen.
One other factor that could give hope to the tech sector is the industry’s increasing maturity, and a possible new willingness to take a tougher tone with members of Congress.
After getting repeatedly burned on issues that seemed like slam-dunk cases, some advocates are promising a new wariness going forward. 
“There are lots of politicians who love to associate with tech but who don’t in fact take the steps necessary to advance technology,” said Garfield, whose trade group counts Apple, Microsoft, Google and other major companies among its dozens of members.
“We haven’t always been the best at holding those politicians accountable,” he added. “That’s one thing we can work on and do better.”

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