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Patent Legislation Passes House Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON June 23, 2011 – After several unsuccessful attempts in previous Congresses, the House Judiciary Committee passed the America Invents Act late Tuesday by a vote of 32-3, moving the first significant overhaul of the U.S. patent system in more than 60 years one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation, the Patent Reform Act, in early March with a vote of 95-5. The House bill has gained the support of many companies including 3M, Apple, Dell, Facebook, General Electric, Google, and Johnson & Johnson.

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WASHINGTON June 23, 2011 – After several unsuccessful attempts in previous Congresses, the House Judiciary Committee passed the America Invents Act late Tuesday by a vote of 32-3, moving the first significant overhaul of the U.S. patent system in more than 60 years one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation, the Patent Reform Act, in early March with a vote of 95-5. The House bill has gained the support of many companies including 3M, Apple, Dell, Facebook, General Electric, Google, and Johnson & Johnson.

Under the new legislation, the patent system will change from the first-to-invent system to a first-inventor-to-file system. The first-inventor-to-file is currently the international standard, with only the United States and Philippines using the first-to-invent system. Under the first-to-file system, patents would be granted to the inventor that files for a patent regardless of whether the filer was the first to actually invent.

The potential change has received widespread support – including that of the Obama administration, which issued a statement of administration policy on the matter: “This provision provides greater certainty for innovators, reduces legal costs that often burden small businesses and independent inventors, and makes it easier for innovators to market their inventions in the global marketplace.”

In a letter to the committee, the National Association of Manufacturers said the new system would “eliminate unnecessary cost and complexity in the U.S. patent system.”

The bill would also change the process by which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues business method patents. Those patents protect new ways that business can be conducted, such as online sales methods or insurance procedures. Under the proposed system an administrative panel would be created to review existing business methods patents and determine their validity.

In addition to clamping down on business methods patents, the bill would ban all tax strategy patents. The move to ban tax strategy patents is strongly supported by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Financial Planning Association.

In a letter of support the groups stated,  “We believe that it is bad public policy to grant someone a monopoly over a form of compliance with the Federal tax code, and no taxpayer should be subject to paying royalties or defending  themselves in lawsuits simply for using a legal way to comply with the tax code.”

The USPTO would also be required to establish an ombudsman that would work solely with small business and independent inventors. The ombudsman would provide small businesses with guidance as they proceed through the filing system. Additionally the bill would direct the USPTO director to work with intellectual property law associations to establish pro bono programs to assist underfunded inventors with the filing system.

In order to expand the ability of the USPTO to work more closely with inventors the agency would expedite the establishment of satellite offices. While the PTO director would have the authority to select future offices, the bill mandates the establishment of an office in Detroit.

While both the House and Senate bills are very similar, they differ in one major section: the end of fee diversion from the USPTO. The Office charges inventors when they file for a patent. During the last 20 years, more than $875 million in user fees were redirected from the USPTO for use by other agencies. A recent review by the Congressional Budget Office showed that by allowing the USPTO to keep its entire user fees, direct funding by the federal government to the Office would decrease by $725 million over the next 10 years.

The Senate bill would give the USPTO more authority to use the funds it collects from the fees, whereas the House version places the collected fees into a special fund under the oversight of the House Appropriations Committee. Under the House bill, the funds could be diverted to other uses, but the House Appropriations Committee has stated that it will only use the funds for the USPTO.

“While I am disappointed that the bill will not go to the House floor with the specific language contained in the Senate-passed bill to end fee diversion, the America Invents Act remains legislation that will be a tremendous boon for American inventors, American manufacturers, and American jobs,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), author of the Senate bill in response to this change by the House.  “I believe that the fee diversion language in the manager’s amendment, coupled with a commitment by the House Appropriations Committee to provide the Patent and Trademark Office with access to the excess fees it collects each year, would be a concrete step in the right direction.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

China

New Leadership and Priorities for Republican-Led Energy and Commerce Committee

The new chair renamed three subcommittees, hinting at the GOP’s goals for the coming term.

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Photo of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018 by Gage Skidmore, used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2023 — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., recently named chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced on Wednesday the new Republican leadership and membership of each subcommittee, giving insight into which members of Congress will be at the forefront of key technology decisions over the coming term.

McMorris Rodgers also announced changes to the committee’s structure, renaming three subcommittees and shifting some of their responsibilities. The changes aim to “ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China and building a more secure future,” McMorris Rodgers told Fox News.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. — now the committee’s ranking member after serving as chair for the past four years — announced on Friday each subcommittee’s Democratic membership and leadership, and named Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., as the vice ranking member for the full committee.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., who will serve as the committee’s vice chair, is a vocal critic of Big Tech. In 2021, he was one of several Republicans who championed major reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The committee’s new names hint at some of the ways that the committee’s priorities may shift as Republicans take control. The former Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee is now titled the Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee and will be chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., alongside Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Bilirakis and McMorris Rodgers have already announced the subcommittee’s first hearing, which will focus on U.S. global technology leadership and competition with China.

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, now led by Chair Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Doris Matsui, D-Calif., also emphasized competition with China in the announcement of a hearing on the global satellite industry.

Latta has previously spoken out against the total repeal of Section 230, but he has also expressed concerns about the extent to which it protects tech companies. In an April 2021 op-ed written jointly with Bilirakis, Latta accused social media platforms of engaging in “poisonous practices… that drive depression, isolation and suicide.”

The Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals Subcommittee, formerly known as the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Bill Johnson, R-Ohio and Ranking Member Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

The Energy Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee, formerly known as the Energy Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The Health Subcommittee will be led by Chair Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will be led by Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Ranking Member Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

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Digital Inclusion

CES 2023: Congressional Oversight, Digital Equity Priorities for New Mexico Senator

Sen. Lujan once again voiced concern that the FCC’s national broadband map contains major inaccuracies.

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Photo of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in February 2018 by Keith Mellnick used with permission

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Sen. Ben Ray Lujan on Friday endorsed “oversight at every level” of executive agencies’ broadband policies and decried service providers that perpetuate digital inequities.

Lujan appeared before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to preview the tech-policy priorities of the 118th Congress.

Among Washington legislators, Senators had CES 2023 to themselves: Representatives from the House of Representatives were stuck in Washington participating on Friday in the 12th, 13th and 14th votes for House Speaker.

Congress allocated $65 billion to broadband projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bulk of which, housed in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, is yet to be disbursed. The IIJA funds are primarily for infrastructure, but billions are also available for digital equity and affordability projects.

Several federal legislators, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have called for close supervision of Washington’s multitude of broadband-related programs. At CES on Friday, Warner argued that previous tranches of broadband funding have been poorly administered, and Lujan once again voiced concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map, whose data will be used to allocate BEAD funds, contains major inaccuracies.

Affordable, high-speed broadband is now a necessity, stated Warner. Lujan argued that policy must crafted to ensure all communities have access to connectivity.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] is working on some of the digital equity definitions right now…. I don’t want to see definitions that create loopholes that people can hide behind to not connect communities,” the New Mexico senator said, emphasizing the importance of “the digital literacy to be able take advantage of what this new connection means, so that people can take advantage of what I saw today [at CES].”

At a Senate hearing in December, Lujan grilled executives from industry trade associations over allegations of digital discrimination.

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Congress

Omnibus Bill Includes FCC Spectrum Auction Extension, TikTok Ban on Government Devices

The spending package includes an extension of the FCC’s auction authority to March 2023.

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Photo of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL.

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2022 – A massive omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2023 released Tuesday includes a provision to extend the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority at least until March 2023.

The commission’s authority has already been extended from September to December. But Tuesday’s $1.7 trillion appropriations bill to power the government through September would extend that authority further to March 9, 2023.

Experts and FCC officials have warned about letting lapse the commission’s authority to auction the valuable airwaves, which power wireless communications services.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced earlier this year, would extend the commission’s authority to March 31, 2024.

TikTok ban on government devices

The omnibus bill also includes a ban on video sharing app TikTok on government devices, cited in the bill as the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act.” The Chinese-owned company has been flagged as a possible national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese Communist government.

The provision requires that not later than 60 days after the bill’s enactment, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with relevant agencies, “develop standards and guidelines for executive agencies requiring the removal of any covered application from information technology.”

The ban also covers any further apps developed or owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance.

Earlier this month, Maryland moved to eliminate the app from government devices and networks.

Consumer protection, cybersecurity measures

The sprawling bill also includes a provision to establish a national standard for online seller transparency and require the Federal Trade Commission to report on cross-border cyber attacks.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ., and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL., advocated for enhanced protections in the bill that puts the FTC at its center. That includes a Schakowsky-authored provision establishing a national standard – enforced by the competition agency and state attorneys general – that requires online platforms to verify the identity of high-volume third-party sellers so that consumers can get basic identification on the sellers.

Another provision, also authored by Schakowsky — chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee — would require the FTC to report on cross-border complaints about ransomware and other cyber attacked committed by foreign individuals, companies and governments, specifically Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has been the subject of major cyberattacks that struck financial services, oil transport, and software companies.

“This end-of-year package is in lock step with our Committee’s commitment to put consumers first,” said the representatives in a joint statement. “It includes legislation that will help curb the onslaught of counterfeit, defective, and unsafe products available to Americans shopping on third-party e-commerce sites—a major source of fake and unsafe goods. It also includes commonsense provisions to keep dangerous furniture products that can tip over on small children off the market and out of our homes.”

Congress is reportedly pushing for the passing of the bill before Christmas.

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