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Tech industry leaders appeal for laxer intellectual property laws

Kenneth Corbin | Aug. 6, 2013
Citing the needs to curb frivolous litigation in the patent system and expand safe harbor and fair use protections, tech representatives get their turn before a House panel mulling a rewrite of IP law.

A panel of executives from various pockets of the tech industry late last week appealed to House lawmakers to relax intellectual property laws to better fit the open source ethos of their companies.

The witnesses suggested that any rewrite of copyright law provide for expanded safe harbor provisions established by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and a generous interpretation of the fair use doctrine that permits the repurposing of snippets of proprietary content.

In particular, however, the witnesses took issue with the patent system, notably the practice of companies that use their portfolio of often dubious and overly broad patents to sue other companies, rather than delivering products or services based on the described innovation.

"They use the cost of litigation as a club to extort settlements out of companies that actually do things," Van Lindberg, vice president of intellectual property at the open source cloud provider Rackspace, told members of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on IP and the Internet. "If there is something that 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."

Thursday's hearing comes amid a broader, if preliminary, effort to rewrite IP law, particularly the DMCA, to account for the quicksilver pace of innovation in tech, while at the same time considering new anti-piracy measures being sought by industries like software and Hollywood. Last week, the judiciary's IP subcommittee held a hearing at which representatives of content-oriented industries, like music and photography, testified.

While members of those industries often present starkly different visions for how IP law should evolve, Rep. Mel Watt (N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, suggested that the notion that the media and technology sectors are separate and distinct, even in conflict, "presents a false dichotomy."

Similarly, Lindberg allowed that intellectual property protections are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that an appropriate policy framework would accommodate both the open source model while still affording copyright protections for industries like music in which revenue is firmly staked on strict controls.

"There are many different business models for innovation that rely on using copyrighted content in different ways," Lindberg says. "There are some models, such as those of songwriters, that really do rely on exclusive control. But then there are models, such as that of Pandora, which rely on the ability to license and use that and to disseminate it as widely as possible. Both of these are important business models that we want to make sure that we encourage, because innovation doesn't just come from control. It also can come from places and from people that you don't expect."


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