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May 7, 2013
Could the US Government Finally Be Moving on IP Law Problems?
The list of news topics about laws and problems grows week by week: computer intrusion laws being overbroad, DMCA exemptions not being granted for everyday activity with technologies, patent trolling, maximalist copyrighting - all ultimately come down to the laws' failure to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology and online social/commerce activities. A pair of recent news stories makes it look like Congress might actually be gearing up to do something.
In the copyright arena, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Robert Goodlatte, announced late last month that his committee would conduct a "comprehensive review" of US copyright laws. Of course, that review alone will take many months and it's likely to be more months still before anything could possibly emerge in the form of new legislation.
However, a review such as this is almost certain to include public hearings, which provides an opportunity for organizations concerned about how badly the Obama administration has handled these issues to get their grievances heard, and garner some publicity. It's one thing to careen from crisis (CISPA) to crisis (TPP) and another to be able to present a coherent view of what a modernized IP regime should look like. Hearings are the place to do that.
Over on the patent side, Senator Charles Schumer announced his intention to file a bill addressing patent trolling. His idea is to expand the realm in which defendants can ask for PTO review of patents before trial. That's not particularly novel, and again fails to address the problem of bad patent issuance, but it is a step in the right direction. PTO review is often directed by courts or requested after courts have invalidated some or all of a patent's claims. Clogging up the PTO with more reviews isn't going to help, but if this works right the number of reviews will remain about the same and companies (and the public) will be spared the time and expense of some IP-related litigation.
David Post, blogging at Volokh Conspiracy, believes that Republicans may be willing to seize the issue of Internet freedom as a way to reconnect with a voter demographic that they've been losing badly. I'm not sure that bedfellows of convenience are what we need now (or ever) but it'll be interesting to see what the GOP makes of this, since it's damned sure the Dems are not going to piss off their funders in the Cartel.
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