Enter Mitt Romney. Just when you thought the race for the White House couldn’t get any more unpredictable and bizarre, the 2012 Republican Nominee rebuked the current Republican frontrunner, Donald J. Trump. Although Romney didn’t bring up the issue of patents we wondered whether he was sending a message. Romney said that if Trump’s policies were ever adopted it would cause “entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America. … Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.” The gauntlet had been thrown down.
So much for Ronald Reagan’s rule to not speak ill of fellow Republicans, but then again Trump blew threw Reagan’s rule a long time ago. In no uncertain terms Mitt Romney indicted Trump as a poor quality candidate that due to his personal temperament is unfit to be President. Romney’s speech was the political equivalent of filing an Inter Partes Review (IPR) claiming the Donald is ineligible subject matter for the Oval Office.
Regardless of Republican bickering, the fact remains that outside of Massachusetts and a couple southern States, Trump has so far well under performed his poll numbers. Roughly 35% of votes cast by Republicans so far in all States have gone to Trump, which means nearly two-thirds of Republican voters are voting for “not Trump,” making him a rather weak frontrunner.
For months there has been talk about the possibility of an open Republican Convention. Depending on the outcome of primaries in Ohio and Florida on March 15 there is a possibility that none of the current candidates can achieve the 1237 delegates necessary to claim the Republican Nomination.
Mitt Romney won’t rule out a possibility of accepting the mantle if drafted at the Republican Convention, although he says he will endorse one of the remaining three candidates at some point. There is always the possibility that Romney is trying to keep the door open for someone else, perhaps his former running mate and current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan says he is not interested, but he said the same thing about becoming Speaker. Is this Ryan being coy? Would he really rebuff a call if it should come at the Convention?
Ryan as Speaker presides over the convention and has told the media in recent weeks he was unaware of the role of Speaker but was studying up on delegate math and convention rules. Regardless of the political drama that is playing out like a John Grisham novel or the “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey as President Underwood, it seems that Mitt Romney is not willing to go quietly as he sees the Republican party imploding.
Over the past several months we have been looking at the various candidates running for President and what, if any, experience or positions they have relative to patents or innovation. See Presidential Campaign Archives. Given the Romney turn of events we thought it might be appropriate to take a look at what we know about Romney and Ryan as it pertains to patent and innovation policy.
First, Ryan was Romney’s running mate in 2012 against President Obama. Obama had just signed the America Invents Act (AIA) into law in October 2011 and was busy promoting measures to curb patent trolls and engage Congress in a new round of patent reform legislation. Obama was also expanding the activity of The White House, The Commerce Department, The Federal Trade Commission and the USPTO in activities generally aimed at addressing abuses of the patent system. Today these efforts are increasingly seen as hostile to the interests of patent owners and the critics in industry and Congress are growing and taking their complaints to the courts and presidential campaigns.
While the Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign website is not running anymore you can get a glimpse of it thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Romney-Ryan campaign talked about patents in the context of attracting talent from around the world because immigrants are highly innovative and highly motivated to break through against the odds.
This type of talk should be very reassuring to tech companies in Silicon Valley who have been repeatedly rebuffed for decades as they have wanted to increase H1-B visas for skilled workers. Supply-side economists report that a 10% growth in H-1B population corresponds to a 6%-12% growth in invention (measured as patents) among immigrant groups and a 0.5%-1% growth in patents by U.S. natives. So a skilled worker, pro-immigration policy as previously supported by Romney-Ryan would increase overall innovation in the U.S. without displacing U.S. workers, a win-win for everyone, particularly Silicon Valley.
Second, Ryan shares Romney’s mid-west, manufacturing technology values. Ryan came up in politics thanks to the guidance of many in Wisconsin including Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a champion of patent centric constituents such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Romney has deep roots in Michigan thanks to his Dad’s work in the automotive manufacturing sector, a very patent centric industry.
Third, in 2008, Mitt Romney the candidate openly promoted a strong patent system. He promised to have a patent attorney run the patent office (and not a political person from Congress or the campaign). Surrogates spoke at innovation events in Silicon Valley linking strong patents to national security. Romney believed in 2008 that strong IP enforcement and fighting piracy and counterfeiting is essential for our security. Prior to 2008 Romney valued patents in his role at Bain Capital as a measure of a company’s assets and competitive advantage. And earlier in his career he helped to save the Salt Lake City Olympics from graft and budget issues by licensing the intellectual property and brands through merchandising and promotion and in ways much akin to how Trump has made his money.
Ryan has already dealt successfully with working with potent and loud opposition from inside the GOP. Ryan is not likely to risk alienating them on patent issues and let them paint him and others as pandering to the DC and corporate elites that Trump, Cruz, Sanders and other “outsider” candidates have tapped into. Throughout the circus that has been the Republican Primary, Ryan has also largely stayed above the fray, only dipping in several times to reiterate core Republican beliefs associated with the freedom of religion (1st Amendment) and against racial bigotry (the party of Lincoln).
The challenge now for Romney, Ryan and other Republicans trying to unite the party and squeeze Trump is this: How will these actions either repel or attract broader support, especially from Silicon Valley, which according to Consumer Technology Association (CTA) head Gary Shapiro votes with their hearts. Republicans have been courting Silicon Valley, and belief they are and should be the party of choice for Silicon Valley. With Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) outraising Hillary Clinton in Silicon Valley, that dash for campaign cash leading into a general election could become quite interesting.
If there were to be a debate today between Romney or Ryan and Trump that focused on business and tech issues like patents, immigration, litigation, speech, surveillance, privacy, taxes and trade it could reveal much. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court in their recent Halo/Stryker oral arguments called the hold-out phenomenon (i.e., efficient infringement where infringers simply ignore patent rights altogether) as patent piracy and seemed troubled by it. As the Trump University scandal has come to the forefront of debates, Trump has said that he doesn’t typically get sued because he does not settle. This philosophical approach, itself a zero tolerance policy toward those who seek to enforce rights, seems eerily in alignment with how the infringer lobby approaches patent owners. It may be too little too late for the Republicans, but questions are being raised about whether Trump built his fortunate on the backs of the little guy.
If Mitt Romney is so inclined to continue as the nemesis of Donald Trump through the Republican Convention, perhaps he could really help by evaluating Trump on concrete business issues and in advance of the California primary, which will be held on June 7, 2016. With 172 winner-take-all delegates on the line there is a very real possibility that California may play a pivotal role in determining whether any one of the candidates reaches 1237 delegates and the Nomination, or whether there is an open convention. Given the amount of money spent the past two decades on lobbying and political contributions by many tech giants in Silicon Valley perhaps patents and associated or tangential innovation related issues may rise as an issue for the California primary? We already know immigration reform is high on the list of the Silicon Valley wish list precisely because immigration is an innovation issue for tech companies.
On March 7th on CNBC Paul Holland of Foundation Capital said he could not find anyone in Silicon Valley that would speak in favor of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz at a policy discussion that he and wife hosted at their home for venture capitalists (VCs), startups and technology company executives. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently took over “The Celebrity Apprentice” show and endorsed Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH). Can Mitt Romney tap into California Republicans that have supported Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Governor Jeb Bush and other former candidates and have them rally around Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kasich and Cruz and risk splintering the Republican vote and helping Trump?
VCs have funded ballot initiatives to break up The Bear Republic into six states, carving Silicon Valley’s wealth out of one of the world’s top 10 economies. Republicans and independents in the technology industry may get behind one candidate but what about the many other Republican voters spread around the rest of California, especially in the rural and suburban areas with long-standing conservative and outsider favorable sentiments? Can Romney tap into these tribes? Will he even try?