Congress Has Work Left to do to Protect Innovators

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The year is drawing to a close, and the holiday break is just around the corner. But before members of Congress leave town, they should consider a few critical pieces of legislation to protect innovators and ensure data flows between the U.S. and EU remain free and open. Swift passage of these bipartisan bills would be a welcomed holiday gift.

Innovative software is changing the way we eat, sleep, work, and live. In many respects, it is the world’s most valuable currency.

The mobile app economy, just one part of the software sector, is not even a decade old, yet it is estimated to have created nearly 1 million jobs in the United States. What’s more, with 2 billion smartphone users around the world, apps will be downloaded more than 250 billion times and generate $77 billion in revenue by 2017. Apps and the software sector are creating jobs and spurring economic growth in the U.S. at an incredible rate.

The sector’s past growth is impressive, but to reach its full potential, software developers need Congress’ help.

First, Congress must pass effective patent litigation reforms to rid our economy of the patent troll scourge.

Legitimate innovators and job creators in every sector of our economy are being extorted by patent trolls.  Trolls use overly broad, never-should-have-been-issued patents like a bludgeon to extract settlement fees from their victims by threatening long and costly litigation. They are killing ideas in the cradle, stifling innovation, economic growth, and most importantly, our standing as the world’s innovation leader.

While trolls are killing businesses by the day, the House of Representatives and Senate both have legislation pending that would protect innovators and job creators from these ruthless actors. The Innovation Act (H.R. 9) in the House and the PATENT Act (S. 1137) in the Senate are both supported by broad, bipartisan coalitions. The bills are narrowly tailored and would curtail many of the trolls’ favored tactics. Importantly, the bills protect legitimate inventors, entrepreneurs, and companies, allowing them to continue to protect their intellectual property.

Second, the Senate cannot let the Judicial Redress Act (S. 1600) languish a day longer.

Earlier this fall, in a blow to more than 4,000 businesses, Europe’s highest court struck down a critical agreement between the U.S and European Union. The Safe Harbor Framework, as it was known, made it easier for companies on both sides of the Atlantic to securely collect, transfer, and store personal data. A post Safe Harbor landscape will be particularly burdensome for small businesses, forcing them to navigate an untold number of privacy regulations around the EU. Developers and the products they create have a global reach, and any trade barriers that inhibit the free flow of data will jeopardize the sector’s growth.

Among the reasons given for striking down the pact was the inability of EU citizens to seek redress in the U.S., should U.S. government agencies misuse their personal data.  The Judicial Redress Act would fix this by granting citizens from some of our EU allies standing in U.S. courts. Americans already enjoy many of these same rights in EU courts.  

Similarly, the bill would benefit the law enforcement communities in the U.S and EU.  The Umbrella Agreement, which U.S. and EU negotiators have been working to finalize, cannot be completed until EU citizens are given an avenue for redress in U.S courts.  The agreement would make it easier for U.S. and EU law enforcement to collect and share information with one another.

The House of Representatives has already passed its own bill by a simple voice vote. It is time that the Senate does the same and send a similar strong message to our EU counterparts.

As we become increasingly dependent on software and its life-changing potential, it is in our best interest to create an ecosystem where the sector can flourish. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that software development will be among the nation’s fastest growing sectors between now and 2022. Achieving this however, will in part be dependent on how fast Congress works to protect new ideas and the data that fuel them.

Lane is director of U.S. Policy and Government Relations for the Application Developers Alliance.