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Tech at Night: Google, NLRB, FCC, Net Neutrality, Patents

Tech at Night

Much to cover, and less time to cover it in! So many important things I don’t even know what to hit first. So, I’ll be biased and hit what I found out about from RedState. Google and the NLRB teamed up to promote unionization, with Google providing free ad space.

That’s a problem for three reasons. First, the NLRB is supposed to be the impartial arbiter of disputes between unions and employers. For the NLRB to promote unionization is to tip its hand as being a tool of one side: the unions. Second, Google isn’t even unionized. Third, and the undoing of the scheme: The NLRB, like the rest of the government, is prohibited by law from accepting free goods or services. If it weren’t for that, they’d all have continued to get away with it as they have since 2008. What a technicality.

Next up we have the ongoing House fight against Net Neutrality. Greg Walden’s subcommittee will vote Wednesday on H.J.Res 37, the Net Neutrality disapproval resolution. The point of the resolution is to invoke the Congressional Review Act and overturn the FCC’s Net Neutrality power grab. On July 10, 1995, on the floor of the Senate, future Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid called the CRA a “reasonable, sensible approach to regulatory reform.” And given the law’s intentionally streamlined approach (no filibuster in the Senate, no amendments in the House), there’s a decent change this will get to the President’s desk to put him on the spot.

But nobody can accuse Rep. Walden of not giving the FCC a chance to give its side. He gave the FCC a chance to respond Monday (today, as I write this) to Republican demands that the FCC give an economic justification for the regulations.

But still, I’m glad House Republicans are “athwart the Obama agenda yelling ‘Stop!’ as the Washington Examiner says. The examiner article is focused on the EPA and Cap and Trade, but the same attitude applies to Fred Upton’s approach to Obamacare and Net Neutrality.

Meanwhile, Industry leaders are putting President Obama on the spot by pointing out that his talk of reducing regulation to promote growth was just that: talk. The FCC is aggressively expanding regulation and government control, and they want to know why he’s not stopping it. Good on them.

Seton Motley reminds us of the dangers of the Internet Kill Switch. I’ve written on that bill repeatedly, before and after Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins pathetically renamed it, and it’s absolutely shameful that any Republican would be a part of that fresh power grab.

Speaking of power grabs, Google still runs the risk of pulling Search Neutrality down onto itself. Having promoted a strong, aggressive, Internet-dominating FCC, Google may end up having played a role in promoting a massive government program called AllVid. In theory AllVid is supposed to commoditize cable television, but if the result is a highly Internet-integrated television service, one run under a government specification, it’s reasonably likely that the government program will include privacy regulation. That privacy regulation could cut to the heart of Google’s core services of search and targeted advertising, forcing transparency and neutrality on them the same way those “principles of neutrality” were forced on ISPs.

But that’s further ahead. More immediate is the Patrick Leahy-sponsored Patent Reform Act. The bill is a trainwreck, pure and simple. The American patent system has always been based on one core concept: he who invents something first, has the right to patent it. That then leads to the principle of prior art, which invalidates patents describing things that were already invented prior to the effort by the patent holder. This first-to-invent system protects innovators.

However now the Patent Reform Act would take America toward the lawyer-friendly (while industry almost uniformly opposes the bill, the ABA supports it) first-to-file system, which rewards big businesses with lots of lawyers ready to draft patents quickly, and punishes the little guy that patents were meant to protect.

Further, the bill picks winners and losers. So-called “green technologies” get extra protection in the courts, while people who find ways to reduce people’s tax bills are banned from receiving patents. This is industrial policy, not property rights.

Sadly the cloture vote on the bill was overwhelming, with only three Senators standing up for innovation in America. Three cheers for Idaho’s Republican Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, and oddly enough, Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington (home of Microsoft, notably), for voting against cloture. Rand Paul didn’t even vote.

I fear this bill will pass, taking us closer to European stagnation and further from traditional innovation. Senators: don’t be surprised if companies send even more software development and hardware design work overseas, guys. Indian coders and Chinese manufacturers thank you, though.

And I close with copyright run amok: the courts are fully behind Sony’s crazy quest to put the genie back in the bottle. You see, Sony incompetently engineered the Playstation 3, and the secret got out. So now they’re trying to lawyer their way into covering it up, trying to threaten anyone who even visited websites of people who let out the secret. It’s sickening that the government is involved in this kind of behavior. Copyright should not be a crutch to cover up bad engineering, and the government should not be subsidizing big business. Visiting YouTube is not a crime, but outrageously expanded copyright law just might make it all but one.

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