Schumer’s rise could boost tech industry

Schumer’s rise could boost tech industry

Sen. Charles Schumer’s apparent crowning as the next Senate Democratic leader could be a boon to the tech industry.

The wily New Yorker, whom Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate buzzsaw awaits 2020 progressive proposals Sanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end MORE (D-Nev.) endorsed to succeed him on Friday, hours after announcing he will retire at the end of his term, has come to the industry’s aid on major issues in recent years. 

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“He’s just really just been a champion, and technology is at the forefront of his thinking as he legislates,” said Vince Jesaitis, the vice president of government affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council. The trade group represents scores of tech industry giants including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo.

“He’s shown, on many occasions, a willingness to engage on the issues and be thoughtful,” echoed Josh Ackil, an industry lobbyist who co-founded the Franklin Square Group. “Issues like patent reform, immigration, net neutrality — he tends to kind of get the importance of innovation and tech.”

In particular, Schumer has been one of the Senate’s biggest supporters of broad reforms to the nation’s patent laws. 

While the issue may not capture national headlines, reforming the nation's patent system is one of the top priorities for tech companies who claim that they have fallen victim to “trolls” that bog down innovation with scores of vague and harassing lawsuits claiming infringement.

Last year, Schumer was one of the chief negotiators on a Senate version of a patent reform bill after similar legislation passed the House in 2013. The blame for that effort's failure was ultimately pinned on Reid, whom critics said had caved to objections from the pharmaceutical industry and trial lawyers.

Schumer also won the endorsement of Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who said he would seek reelection to his leadership post in 2016, allowing Schumer to leapfrog the No. 2 Democrat.

Unlike Schumer, Durbin has been much more skeptical of broad patent reform measures, which he has said could limit scientists and inventors to break new bold ground.

Schumer was also a vocal backer of immigration reform, which tech companies say is critical to supply them with a vibrant workforce. And last summer, he was among the first lawmakers to urge the FCC to embrace tough net neutrality rules that treat the Internet like a public utility. For many Internet companies, net neutrality is a critical issue to make sure that Web companies of the future have a fair chance at becoming the next Google or Facebook.

Priorities could certainly change once and if Schumer rises to power — which still would not be for another year and a half — but industry lobbyists are optimistic about the future.

“We always like to see folks who are friendly to the industry ascend to power,” said Mike Hettinger, another industry lobbyist who recently founded his own firm, Hettinger Strategy Group.

“And it looks like that’s what we’re seeing here.”