Senator Wyden Lays Out Broad Internet Freedom Agenda, Warns Against 'Maximalist' Agenda That Harms Innovation

from the more-of-this-please dept

This morning at CES, Senator Ron Wyden laid out a broad and detailed agenda for how Congress can and should promote internet freedom and increase innovation — mainly by focusing on knocking down the barriers presented by legacy players who don’t want to adapt or compete. Among other things, he talked about increasing access, pushing back on data caps, dealing with the harm of software patents, greater privacy protections and more. Joe Mullin at Ars Technica has done a nice job bullet-pointing the key planks if you don’t feel like reading the whole speech linked above. I’m sure many here will appreciate this line from his speech:

What chills the sharing of ideas and collaboration is the maximalist approach to copyrights and patents. Rights-holders are too eager to use their power to scare off challenges to the status quo, and this perpetuates stagnation.

Other items of interest: he’s working with Senator Al Franken on taking an antitrust approach to deal with net neutrality. Details obviously matter — and I’ve been quite skeptical of net neutrality laws, as they seem ripe for regulatory capture by big broadband providers — but an antitrust approach is at least an interesting idea. We’ve been arguing for nearly a decade that the whole concept of “net neutrality” is something of a red herring. The only reason net neutrality is an issue is because of a lack of competition. Thus, taking an antitrust approach may actually make sense, though (again) the details matter quite a bit.

On patents, he’s arguing that we need much more detailed info on the impact of software patents on the economy:

A related concern is the affect of software patents on America’s ability to innovate. Congress should begin a review – a cost-benefit analysis – of software patents’ contribution to the economy. The acquisition of these patents appears less about deploying innovation and more about employing a legal arsenal. The patent system should not, as Julie Samuels at EFF says, operate as a tax on innovation, as it does now. How are you promoting innovation if you stand behind a law that enables a few lines of code to be patentable for 20 years? Software is different than a new invention. It is a building block — a new set of instructions — that should be continually built upon and improved.

This is good… but I still get nervous when people focus too much on software patents. There are significant problems with all kinds of patents, and focusing just on “software” alone, may leave other problems in place. Still, more data and information is a good thing, and a serious look at the economic impact of software patents can only be a good thing.

In separate conversations after his speech, Wyden made it clear that with all the other — more high profile — things that Congress is fighting over in the next few months, it may be difficult to get too much through Congress, but he is quite reasonably optimistic about how many people in Congress are awakening to the importance of the internet and to understanding the wider concerns of all of us who use the internet on a daily basis.

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Comments on “Senator Wyden Lays Out Broad Internet Freedom Agenda, Warns Against 'Maximalist' Agenda That Harms Innovation”

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saulgoode (profile) says:

This is good… but I still get nervous when people focus too much on software patents. There are significant problems with all kinds of patents, and focusing just on “software” alone, may leave other problems in place.

Even for those who feel that patents generally may be beneficial, software patents can still be viewed as particularly problematic. There are strong arguments against patenting software that are not applicable against the patenting of machines or manufactures, and it is not unreasonable to object to the issuance of software patents without challenging the patent regime as a whole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, I would also err on the side of caution on this subject. I am not sure that the system is bad for machines and devices today though you can easily make small adjustments without too many unintended bad effects.

When that is said, software patents are very problematic for a variety of reasons (too high innovation speed, principle of patenting what at basic machine code boils down to basic math, general low innovation height etc.), patents on a range of chemical compounds constitutes a problem (health concerns ie. Doha rounds, patenting gene sequences which basically is slightly complicated math of nature, proteins which basically is comparable in concerns to gene sequences etc.) and there is a fundamental problem with HR patents and other none-physically manifested subjects (Tax on thoughts?, extremely hard to define innovation height and prior art which is basically 100% subjective, boundary issues etc.).

USA has a specific problem with the damages incentivising specialized NPEs to make a living through court rooms (trolling). Europe has the opposite problem of large companies basically ignoring smaller companies patents and just taking the small cost from the courts as an investment. None of those problems are directly related to the patent-system. They are related to the civil court regulation (enforcement. Actually ACTA would decrease the european problem, by incentivising the rightholder to have as high a profit margin as possible before a case! % of retail price as a minimum is a rather unfortunate measure for damages!).

Anonymous Coward says:

One step at a time

“This is good… but I still get nervous when people focus too much on software patents. There are significant problems with all kinds of patents, and focusing just on “software” alone, may leave other problems in place.”

Ever engineer will tell you you don’t fix everything at once, you start with the most broken part, then tackle the rest in order of priority.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: One step at a time

Is there anyone who isn’t in favor of software patent reform? (If there are opponents, what are their concerns?)

Seems like this is the issue most likely to get bipartisan support. And, by the same token, if no progress can be made here, I don’t think there’s much hope for issues where there isn’t as much widespread agreement.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: One step at a time

That would be ‘patent trolls’, and ‘because fixing the mess would damage their business model(extortion)’.

The biggest stumbling block I see is that congress and the senate have been fed the idea for so long that ‘patents are good and promote creation/innovation’, and so to do anything to fix the mess would require them to actually wake up and realize that no patents are not always good, and in fact these days tend to, more often that not, do exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to.

And given most politicians hate to a) admit to being wrong on something, and b) do actual work, I imagine there will be some significant push-back to this proposal.

Joe Bit says:

Re: An "A" committee chairman with "no influence"

Hmm, this is the only guy who has managed to changes Senate rules in decades, doing away with the secret hold (you now have to publicly disclose it – can’t hide behind anonymity.) This is the guy who held up PIPA/SOPA for a year and a half then browbeat the major players into participating in the Internet blackout that stopped a bill with 40 – FORTY – bipartisan cosponsors, he’s in the top 20 in seniority, is next in line to chair the most powerful committee in the Senate, and has just taken over chairmanship of a major committee – This is the guy you think has “no influence”? Get help son.

DannyB (profile) says:

Linking is not infringement

How about a change to copyright law that codifies into law that linking to content is not infringment, even if the linked to content turns out to be infringing. It is the infringing content that is infringing (duh!) not the link to it.

Copyright owners should like this because the links enable them to get right to the source and take down the actual infringing content; instantly making worthless all of the links (both known and unknown links). Less effort, instead of fighting an unknown number of links, just follow a link to the source of the actual infringement. This seems so simple and logical.

Protecting the links against claims of infringement is important because:

1. links may be innocently mechanically generated by crawling other links on third party web pages (and I’m talking about a lot more than just Google here)

2. links may be innocent when they are created, but then the source material they link to is changed from innocent to infringing, suddenly turning the innocent link to an infringer without its owner’s knowledge. (Example: I link to my neighbor’s kid’s birthday video today. Tomorrow my neighbor changes the content of that video to be pirated content from a major movie. Now I am suddenly a criminal even though I didn’t do anything wrong.)

Anonymous Coward says:

While i agree there is a larger problem than just software patents, let’s talk strategy for a bit here.

If they are recognizing that software patents are a problem, lets bolster their current conclusions. Reinforce their egos by backing them up here, and when things do get changed, THEN, you start asking about other patents. “Well all theses patented circuits are really just building blocks of the more complex chipsets, should we really be allowing patents there?”

Convince them of one thing first, then move laterally. Divide and conquer as they say…

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