THE LEDE: Tech groups will meet with Senate Judiciary staff Friday to discuss the current legal opportunities to challenge low-quality patents as a part of the committee’s efforts to reform patent law.
Currently in front of the committee is a bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) aimed at curbing “patent troll” activity, or frivolous infringement lawsuits and threats of lawsuits based on low-quality patents. While most agree on Leahy’s bill as introduced, the tech industry is waiting to see which of the committee members’ contentious proposals get added to the bill.
One of those proposals comes from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wants to expand an existing review process at the Patent and Trademark Office to software patents. Friday’s staff briefing will focus on the current mechanisms for improving patent quality.
According to people familiar with the briefing schedule, two groups in favor of creating an additional review process for software patents — the Application Developers Alliance and The Internet Association — will present, as well as two groups that are opposed — the Association for Competitive Technology and IBM.
Advocates of Schumer’s provision say current mechanisms don’t work and that the additional review process it would give would allow defendants the ability to challenge the weak patents often at the heart of patent troll cases. Opponents say it would weaken intellectual property rights overall.
The House companion bill — the Innovation Act, which passed that chamber last year — originally included a provision to allow for this additional scrutiny for software patents. House Judiciary Committee Chairman and Innovation Act author Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) took that provision out of his bill after he faced significant backlash from certain parts of the tech industry.
Before Friday’s briefing, tech groups sent dueling letters to Leahy and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), encouraging them to take sides on the issue.
A letter from opponents of the provision said expanding the existing review process to software patents “could inadvertently undermine many valid patents by giving infringers a new procedural loophole to delay enforcement.”
The letter points to the removal of that provision from the Innovation Act.
“The provision was removed because it had become clear that maintaining the measure was creating a roadblock to passing any legislation,” the groups wrote. “We believe the same is true in the Senate.”
In a contrasting letter, the Main Street Patent Coalition — which includes the Application Developers Alliance as well as national retail, restaurant and financial institution groups — encouraged Congress to “disarm trolls by improving patent quality and providing a way to fight bad patents.”
Congress should “expand inexpensive post-grant review opportunities so trolls think carefully before threatening Main Street with patents that never should have been approved,” the group wrote.
Tech firms raise glasses to Waxman: Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) announcement that he will retire at the end of the year sent ripples throughout Washington on Thursday, and the tech sector was no exception. Businesses and officials lauded the Energy and Commerce ranking member, who formerly served as the committee's chairman, for his four decades in public office.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler referred to Waxman’s “championing of American consumers” and said “his leadership will be missed.”
“We’ve all had a good working relationship with him at this agency. We look forward to continuing to have a good working relationship with the committee,” he added.
Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in a statement that Waxman "has been a force for change during his tenure in Congress and he will be missed.”
Sprint also issued a statement after Waxman’s announcement. “Sprint is grateful for his years of dedicated service and appreciates his commitment towards fighting for fair competition and consumer choice,” the company said.
Net neutrality action coming ‘soon’: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Thursday that he will “soon” be addressing a federal court’s decision to strike down the agency’s “net neutrality” rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites. Wheeler repeated his pledge to protect the open Internet, saying that he will be building on the net neutrality principles.
“What you will see in a relatively short time is us stepping out to put some more flesh around those basic principles,” he said.
Left-leaning and civil rights groups hope that Wheeler intends to reclassify Internet service providers as “common carriers” like traditional telephone service. If it did that, the FCC would be able to rewrite its net neutrality rules. Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn and ColorOfChange delivered a petition signed by more than 1 million people on Thursday urging it to reissue the rules.
“To adequately protect the public he represents from predatory business practices by the telecom and cable giants, Chairman Wheeler must take action now to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers subject to the same rigorous anti-discrimination rules we enjoy when making a phone call, using electricity, or taking public transportation,” ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson said in a statement.
Spokesman shifts commissions: Justin Cole has been a top spokesman at the FCC for more than a year. Now he will join the staff at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the director of its public affairs office.
“I am very pleased to welcome Justin to our leadership team,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “His knowledge and extensive communications experience will help us to advance the public’s understanding of the important work we do to protect American consumers.”
Before the FCC, Cole worked at Tata Communications and was a deputy editor for Fitch Ratings’s corporate communications. He also spent time as a journalist with Agence France-Presse and Dow Jones Newswires. He starts at the FTC on Feb. 10