PALO ALTO, Calif.—While visiting the center of Silicon Valley on Thursday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans focused little on specific technology issues and more on rallying the crowd around the economy.
Speaking at Hewlett-Packard Co.s headquarters here, Evans credited sound fiscal policy and a series of federal tax cuts for helping the economy recover from a downturn that had hit the information technology industry particularly hard.
"I have been fully cycle tested and know what this area has been through the last three to four years," Evans told a crowd of about 200, referencing his days in business during past booms and recessions.
"The high-tech economy again has a lot of momentum. It feels good. In my lifetime, I cant remember a time when the economy has been stronger."
Evans upbeat economic assessment followed Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan telling Congress this week that the tax cuts helped stem the economys decline and warning about rising deficits. Also on Thursday, the Conference Board reported that leading economic indicators fell slightly in June for the first time since March 2003.
As Evans talked up the positive impact of tax cuts on entrepreneurs and the economy, the audience appeared more dubious. When asked if they were unsure whether tax cuts were responsible for recent growth, about half of audience members raised their hands.
One asked pointedly, "What about deficits?"
Evans replied that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq made deficits necessary.
"Were at war," he said. "There are times where deficits are understandable and necessary, and this is one of the times where Id say the deficits are understandable and necessary."
Evans addressed issues of intellectual property and technology during a question-and-answer period. Among its functions, the Commerce Department delves into telecom and IT policy and standards as well as overseas the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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Evans was asked to do more to get clarification on "fair use" rights in copyrighted material. Makers of software for sharing digital media and the recording and movie industries have been butting heads over the extent to which consumers can share digital media.
Evans did not discuss specifics of the legal battles between the recording industry and consumers but said he was "pro fairness and pro innovation."
In a meeting with the media following his address, he was asked about criticism over the patent offices ability to analyze and efficiently review technology patents. Evans said that the department is working to reform the patent system.
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Efforts at reform include making the process an electronic one, rather than a paper-driven one, as well as adding more resources to the patent office, he said.
"Were also working hard to integrate with the global patent system," Evans said. "We understand the importance of protecting patents."