The New Washington Tech Agenda - Page 2

Patent Reform

Along with network neutrality and H1-B visas, patent reform is a top priority for Washington technology policy shops that want to limit infringement damages and install a process to weed out weak patents. So far, that effort has failed in the face of fierce opposition from the pharmaceutical, biotech and manufacturing industries.

Tech scored a major victory last year when the U.S. House approved the first significant overhaul of patent law in a half century, narrowing the definition of willful infringement and limiting infringement damage awards to the actual value of the technology involved instead of the overall value of the completed product. The bill also created a "second window" to challenge patents issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. The legislation, though, died in the U.S. Senate, putting tech back at square one.

Obama, it appears, is on tech's side in the patent reform battle that will surely resurface in the next Congress. Obama supports reform producing "gold-plated patents" to "reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation." He's backing opening up the patent process to citizen review and giving the Patent and Trademark Office the resources to improve patent quality.

Broadband Rollout

You've read the numbers over and over: The United States is falling behind other industrialized nations in overall broadband penetration, putting the United States at a distinct disadvantage in the global innovation race. Like Bush, Obama wants affordable, universal broadband for all Americans. Unlike Bush, Obama may actually do something about it.

Obama wants to expand the USF (Universal Service Fund), currently a tax on consumer telephone bills dedicated to extending phone service to rural and other high-cost areas, to also cover broadband connections. Obama aims to redirect USF funds in combination with promotion of next-generation broadband facilities and new tax and loan incentives to greatly expand the reach of U.S. high-speed Internet services.

USF reform is currently before the FCC, where commissioners are seemingly deadlocked over expanding the system to cover broadband connections. An Obama FCC is likely to change that.


Obama wants a "smarter, more efficient and more imaginative use" of the nation's spectrum as yet another way to bring broadband to Americans.

The FCC, under Republican Kevin Martin, is already moving in that direction with its decisions to mandate open access for portions of its recently concluded 700MHz auction, to open the interference buffer zones between television channels for the use of white space devices and a proposal for a spectrum auction in 2009 that would require the winning bidder to provide a free wireless broadband tier to 50 percent of the United States in four years and 95 percent of the country within 10 years.

Republicans in Congress have opposed all of those proposals. Obama's election not only puts a Democrat in the White House, but Democrats also strengthened their majorities in both houses. More spectrum clearly signals a new day for wireless innovation.