Obama Wins, Tech Loses

With Hillary Clinton sent to the presidential sidelines June 3, Congress can now turn its attention to its most pressing issue: How quickly can lawmakers shut down the 110th Congress? They have campaign trails to hit—both their own and the presidential candidate of their choice—Barack Obama or John McCain.

That's not a good thing for tech.

Although no one will remember this Congress as particularly tech friendly, the few issues of importance still remaining for tech are now likely to disappear in a blaze of "wait until next year" rhetoric. That is to say, Democrats showed about as much interest in tech issues as when Republicans controlled Washington.

For three consecutive two-year sessions of Congress, Republican leadership promised telecom reform, more money for science and tech education, patent reform and ubiquitous broadband for all. It didn't happen, although the Repos kept promising it would. Just wait to the next session was always the refrain.

The Democrats stormed into control last year promising an "innovation agenda" that sounded mighty good to Silicon Valley. The agenda proposed to double federal spending on a national broadband rollout, drop wads of cash on tech and science education spending and otherwise blow new life into America's flagging innovation.

You guessed it: It didn't happen. And it won't happen this year—as the only thing on Congress' mind these days is going home and kicking political butt. Congress plans to meet through the end of June and then knock for a weeklong Independence Day holiday break. After a brief July session, Congress will take its annual August recess.

By then, the presidential race will be kicking into high gear and an anxious Congress will attempt to wrap up all of its business by the end of September, if not sooner. That business probably won't include any tech issues.

Patent reform? Forget it. The House won great praise from the tech industry for passing a patent reform bill in September last year. The legislation would prohibit forum shopping, narrow the definition of willful infringement and limit infringement damage awards to the actual value of the technology involved—instead of the overall value of a completed product.

Woohoo! shouted tech; Boohoo moaned the biotech, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. Good-bye patent reform, said the Senate, politely dropping the House bill in a round file.

Network neutrality? Isn't going to happen. A year-and-a-half into the ol' 110th and not a single vote has been cast for or against the telecom and cable industry handling of network traffic. Like the Republicans, Democrats held hearings on net neut. But in the end all we've seen is hand wringing, hollow rhetoric and an intense desire to ultimately duck the issue.

Democrats can already be heard claiming valuable groundwork for their innovation agenda was broken in the 110th. When will they deliver on their promises from the 2006 elections? Just wait till next year.