Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Patent reform on deck

LEDE: The clock could be the greatest hurdle in getting patent reform through Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bill aimed at thwarting so-called patent trolls is heading for a Thursday markup — a first move in getting a bill onto the Senate floor, through the House and to the president’s desk.

“We have broad support but time is our enemy as well,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped negotiate the bill along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cornyn called the markup the “beginning step in another long journey.”

{mosads}Senators say addressing concerns from the disparate industries affected by patents has been another hurdle, which helped shut down reform last Congress. Sponsors of the Senate bill unveiled a managers’ amendment on Tuesday night that offers a number of additions to placate some industries, and they are confident of committee passage. “We have some patent holders who are worried, but we’re trying to accommodate them. But we have to tell them that they have to be reasonable too,” Schumer said, adding that he is still “trying to get a few more people on board by tweaking the bill here and there.”

CHANGES WIN OVER SOME: The additions to the patent bill contained in the managers’ amendment won over the group 21C, which represents pharmaceutical and other industries. After Senate sponsors introduced changes to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) post grant and inter partes review process, the group said it is “please to support the overall bill.”

United for Patent Reform — representing technology and retail companies — has already been a supporter of the bill. It found the changes unhelpful but continued its support. The Internet Association, another strong supporter of patent reform, said the changes “significantly weaken” the process and alluded to a commitment from the sponsors to “improve” their amendment.

SOME MINDS NOT CHANGED: A trade group representing Qualcomm, Dolby and others continued to oppose the bill. The Innovation Alliance said the PTO changes did not go far enough and other pieces of the underlying bill could still hurt patent holders, including provisions on customer stay, discovery and pleading standards. While noting the Senate bill is better than the House version, the Innovation Alliance said it would “jeopardize the value and enforceability of all U.S. patents” and harm innovation. Club For Growth, the American Conservative Union and others also continued to express opposition.  

HOUSE MEMBERS FLOAT COPYRIGHT OFFICE OVERHAUL: Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) are slated to unveil draft legislation Thursday that would overhaul the Copyright Office, which is housed in the Library of Congress. The legislation would elevate the current Registrar title at the office to Director, to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The aim of the legislation, the lawmakers say, is to keep the department as independent as possible. Signaling the tough sell on the issue, the lawmakers are only introducing a discussion draft this week to gauge reaction and feedback from stakeholders. The title is the Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act.

WARNER TO TAKE ON SHARING ECONOMY: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is going give a speech Thursday morning on the policy challenges posed by the rise of the on-demand (or 1099, or sharing) economy. An aide gave The Hill a preview this week. “What we’re going to do Thursday is kind of an initial survey of the landscape. He’s not proposing any policy or specific legislation but he’s going to be prepared to talk about five, six areas where he thinks federal policymakers need to be engaged with these fundamental changes to a significant part of the U.S. economy,” the aide said. That will include suggesting that Washington explore new ways to define the relationship between employers and workers and recommending that the GAO gather new data on the workforce of “contingent” employees.

FCC BACKS EFFECTIVE COMPETITION CHANGES: The FCC approved new rules taking regulatory authority over cable rates away from local authorities for both small and large providers. The commissioners were unanimous on the question of smaller providers. But Clyburn and Rosenworcel dissented on the question of whether the new rule should apply to large providers — leaving chairman Tom Wheeler siding with the commission’s two Republicans — first reported by National Journal.

FBI FLIGHTS SPUR QUESTIONS FROM CONGRESS: Lawmakers are piling on the Justice Department and the FBI after reports linked scores of mysterious, slow circling planes to an FBI surveillance program. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey on Monday asking what kind of technology is used on the planes and what is the scope and legal authority of the flights. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent his own letter to Comey and the Justice Department asking a more extensive set of questions on Wednesday. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) circulated her own letter in the House that is expected to go out either Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

FIREWORKS FLY AT PROCESS REFORM HEARING: The chairman and ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of House Energy and Commerce got into a spat at a Wednesday morning hearing on FCC process reform. Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) took issue with ranking member Anna Eshoo’s (D-Calif.) statement that he and others had said in a January letter that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should release the draft of the net neutrality rules “before the other commissioners had an opportunity to review it.” “That is factually wrong,” a visibly upset Walden said, balking at the suggestion he had said that the public should receive the text of the order before the four commissioners. Eshoo defended her statement, saying that releasing the rule at the same time that commissioners received it meant they would not have any time to study the order. Watch the exchange here.

NATE SILVER CHIDES FCC OVER POLLING: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver criticized the Federal Communications Commission over a new proposal to crack down on robocalls that “could make telephone polling harder than ever.” Referring back to the FCC’s enforcement action during Janet Jackson’s performance at the 2004 Super Bowl, Silver said the commission “probably ought to go back to policing ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ and not making pollsters’ jobs any harder.”

LINCOLN CHAFEE DOESN’T REMEMBER HIS FACEBOOK PASSWORD: Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced that he’s running for president tonight. One hitch: nobody knows his Facebook password. Bloomberg reported (with a hat-tip to Scott Bland) that his wife, Stephanie Chafee, posted on her own Facebook account asking if anyone who had worked for the governor, who also served as a senator, remembered the password to the official Facebook page he had used while in office.


At 9:00 a.m., Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) will go to the New America Foundation to deliver a “major policy address” on the sharing economy.

At 9:30 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up its patent reform bill.


Google came under fire at a shareholder meeting for its lackluster workplace diversity statistics.

A House panel passed a bill aimed at making the FCC more transparent on Wednesday over the objections of Democrats who opposed a trio of Republican amendments on what was originally a bipartisan measure.

The technology industry knows more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal than many members of Congress, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.

Critics trying to kill new net neutrality rules are hedging their bets that a federal court will grant their request to put the regulations on hold.

A crop of tech startups, including Uber and Lyft, that employ armies of contractors instead of direct employees is drawing scrutiny from Washington, where lawmakers and other officials are raising concerns about the way “sharing companies” are regulated.


Please send tips and comments to David McCabe, dmccabe@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@dmccabe


Tags Al Franken Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer John Cornyn Mark Warner Suzan DelBene

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