Washington might have a reputation for partisan gridlock, and while you may not know it from the loud, partisan bickering on cable television and beyond, this Congress’ Democrats and Republicans have actually worked together to notch wins on some key issues that have paid dividends for the Bay Area.
This year, for example, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to pass legislation, like the CHIPS and Science Act, to spur innovation in the tech sector, investments that will provide a major boost to Bay Area companies. Now, as we enter a new Congress, it’s up to our two parties to continue that bipartisan spirit and work together in a divided Congress to double down on their tech investments and find common ground to protect American innovation and ingenuity.
Lawmakers should capitalize on the bipartisan atmosphere in Washington by passing bills that both parties can get behind, like the Advancing America’s Interests Act, to tackle an issue that remains a quiet threat to America’s position as a global leader in creativity and innovation — bad actors seeking to take advantage of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). Congress’ ability to update and modernize current law to accommodate the fast-paced American innovation economy is a daily challenge, one that we navigate on a daily basis at TechNet, where we’re proud to represent some of the Bay Area’s best and brightest innovators. While the ITC was initially created with the goal of promoting and protecting America’s most innovative companies, the commission hasn’t been meaningfully updated since 1975. Since then, bad actors have learned to take advantage of the ITC, twisting the Commission’s rules to bully the businesses it’s supposed to protect.
Non-practicing entities (NPEs), also known as patent trolls, have devised strategies to transform the ITC’s rules into legal weapons to extract unfair, expensive settlements from legitimate businesses. These NPEs are typically based overseas, and they don’t actually make or sell anything. Instead, they make their money by buying weak or vague patents and filing frivolous lawsuits baselessly alleging patent infringement against American companies. In recent years, the problem has gotten out of hand with some NPEs advertising themselves as leaders of the “patent monetization industry.”
NPEs often target their ITC suits against major American businesses, and recently they’ve had their sights set on Bay Area companies responsible for driving U.S. innovation. For example, over the summer one NPE filed a complaint with the ITC against a group of Silicon Valley’s top semiconductor manufacturers, like Nvidia and Advanced Devices. If the case is successful, it would hamstring some of our city’s top tech companies and undercut Congress’ efforts to boost innovation. Apple, another Bay Area success story, is currently facing a suit from one NPE-like actor that could result in the ban of the Apple Watch.
The Advancing America’s Interests Act, introduced by Reps. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., addresses many of these issues. It would modernize the ITC and make much-needed updates to stop bad actors from taking advantage of our outdated patent system and protect innovation – a surefire policy win for both parties.
America’s innovators have welcomed the milestones Congress has been able to achieve on a bipartisan basis to promote innovation. Now we’re asking leaders in Washington to take additional steps to protect our economy. The Advancing America’s Interest Act includes key, commonsense provisions, like discouraging the use of extreme exclusion orders and blocking foreign NPEs from using the commission for malintent. This would put an end to frivolous ITC suits and modernize laws that patent trolls manipulate for financial gain.
Linda Moore is President and CEO of TechNet.
This essay was first published in the Mercury News.