A Call for Action in Washington

Companies rally for protection of IT R&D.

Some of the same software companies that have outsourced jobs overseas in recent years in response to growing competitive pressures are urging policy-makers to do more to protect American jobs and promote U.S.-based innovation and expertise.

The tension between short-term corporate fiduciary responsibilities and long-term market goals was demonstrated in the seemingly divergent messages of the countrys top technology industry CEOs, who earlier this month addressed the Business Software Alliances Global Tech Summit here.

On one hand, the executives presented a promising vision of the world in 2013, where vast networks of small sensors track inventories across the globe, computing is a utility like electricity and any broadband connection can be transformed into a voice telephone line. On the other hand, they warned that inadequate intellectual property protection, insufficient funding of research and development, and subpar education in science and engineering threaten to blunt the cutting edge of U.S.-based software development.

Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove, warning that software companies will be inclined to outsource if public policies do not provide reasons not to, urged policy-makers not to let the U.S. software industry lose its leading position.

"Do we have the national will to take purposeful action?" Grove asked, styling himself as the "skunk in [the] garden party."

"The part that depresses me most is not that we havent done these things but that we havent even articulated the problem," Grove said, addressing the summit via satellite.

IT company executives, while in Washington, sought more aid from Congress not only for intellectual property protection and R&D but also for tax breaks and reform of laws dealing with class action torts. However, they made it clear that they are not interested in other IT-related federal mandates.

"Theres plenty of legislation today. The critical ingredient missing is a framework and a way to apply it," said William Conner, chairman and CEO of Entrust Inc., of Addison, Texas. "There needs to be context to the legislation thats out there."

The industry has not fully convinced the government that more requirements are unnecessary, however. Addressing the summit, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said policy-makers should consider new security disclosure requirements along the lines of requirements put in place before Y2K. The industry is fighting the initiative.

"Theres already an audit standard out there for reporting internal weaknesses," said Art Coviello, president and CEO of RSA Security Inc., of Bedford, Mass. "What were talking about here is a change in environment."

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