Citing the open-source philosophies that shape many of today’s leading American technology companies, industry leaders have been lobbying the House of Representatives to make important changes to the country’s intellectual property laws. Specifically, tech industry leaders are calling for the laws to be relaxed, particularly on patents.
Why would tech magnates support a relaxation of such law? One need look at the recent string of patent lawsuits to understand. An emerging trend in the tech industry is for a company to file overly encompassing patents, then sue competitors for using ideas or technologies that are dubiously “proprietary.” Many leaders in the tech industry say that their customers are suffering as an end result, since companies spend so much of their time and resources involved in litigation that they aren’t actually able to develop the patented technology in a prompt and efficient manner.
Calls for relaxations of the law were echoed again and again by tech industry leaders during a recent series of hearings on IP and Internet law that were held by a Judiciary Committee panel. The hearings were ordered as an early step in the reexamination of current intellectual property laws, particularly the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was passed in 1998. Van Lindberg, who currently serves as the vice president of the intellectual property division of Rackspace, a leading provider of cloud computing solutions, said, “They use the cost of litigation as a club to extort settlements out of companies that actually do things. If there is something you could do to encourage innovation in America, it is to stop the patent troll problem and to really help us with this litigation abuse.”
Scores of other technology industry insiders echoed Lindberg’s statement in support of revisions of the law that would expand the so-called “safe harbor provisions” in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act while allowing for a more relaxed and looser interpretation of the “fair use” statutes that facilitate the legal reuse and repurposing of certain types of proprietary technology. However, it is worth noting that leading members of content-oriented industries, such as software and entertainment, are calling for a tightening of existing laws to help them protect their products and generate valuable revenue in a consumer climate that frequently promotes illegal piracy.