How a Washington Breakfast Influenced Conservative Votes on Patent Reform

By Paul Morinville
September 8, 2015

corruption-abstract-capitol-franklin-335I bought breakfast at a local diner in downtown Harlan, Iowa a couple of weeks ago. A home cooked sausage and cheese omelet plus an endless cup of coffee is less than $9. Breakfast in Washington, it seems, is much more expensive, not to mention much more gratifying.

The life’s blood of politics is money. For an incumbent politician the more money they have the easier a path to reelection, which seems to be the primary focus of most Members of Congress. Raising money is an absolute job requirement, at least if you want to stay as an incumbent politician.

While many a commentator has lamented the chase for money by politicians, one less often told story is how senior Members of Congress are able to influence more junior Members, those who are in truly swing districts, and those Member who are perennial targets from the opposing party.

Here is a story of how $1,000 a plate Washington breakfast influenced the votes of several Conservative Members of Congress who serve on the House Judiciary, including Representative Steve King (IA-04), allowing Committee passage of H.R.9, the innovation killing Innovation Act.

Over the past several years there have been a number of large corporations, many that have patents themselves, who have funded and managed a powerful Washington lobbying effort. The focus has ostensibly been on reforming the problem of patent litigation abuse, but the changes advocated would be to their favor at the expense of innovators, like universities, independent inventors and startups. These large companies commercialize thousands of technologies invented by others, without permission, and thus benefit directly from weaker patent rights.

In total, this lobbying effort, which has been lead primarily by Google, has dumped over a billion dollars on Washington in ten years in a seemingly endless effort to kill inventors and small innovation companies so they can take their patented inventions without consequences. Google alone spent over ten million dollars the first six months of 2015 climbing the charts to number three in corporate spending in Washington. This effort created a fictional cartoon character called a patent troll, placed Google employees into key positions within the USPTO, Commerce Department, and The White House, and influenced many votes to pass damaging legislation.

The Chairman of House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte (VA-06) unveiled H.R.9 in the House Judiciary Committee in early February. Congressman Goodlatte is not only the primary driving force behind H.R.9, but importantly, his son was a Facebook executive. Free riding on innovation sounds like a great deal, but as it turns out nothing in life is really ever free. Still, the potential conflict of interest goes a long way to explain why Congressman Goodlatte may be so interested in seeing radical changes to U.S. patent laws.

Despite Congressman Goodlatte’s best efforts, by April H.R.9 was faltering due to opposition from conservatives both on and off the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Goodlatte was understandably frustrated by opposition from the conservative wing of his own party. Just 12 months prior, the 113th Congress passed the original Innovation Act (H.R. 3309) in the House by a vote of 325-91, only to watch it die in the Senate under the threat of a bi-partisan filibuster. H.R. 9, he thought, would pass by the same margin in this the 114th Congress. The fight would be again in the Senate.

Congressman Goodlatte had been working closely with President Obama, and a few of the twenty plus Google employees now working in the Obama administration, in a joint effort to push H.R.9 through the House. In a city where nothing bipartisan ever seems to get done any more, a powerful Republican Committee Chair working to push forward the Obama agenda on patent reform seemed curious. Why would Republicans want to hand Google, a loyal Obama ally, with everything they wanted on patent reform? Despite the optics of Republicans working to reward a staunch Obama ally, Congressman Goodlatte did not expect conservative opposition, but he was getting it in large doses.

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For Congressman Goodlatte, failure to pass H.R. 9 could mean a significant loss of lobbyist money, but he comes to Congress from one of the safest of all districts. First elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, Goodlatte has four times run unopposed in the general election. In 2014 he received nearly 75% of the vote, and in years where he has had close elections he has still managed to win by over 30%. In many years he has won reelection by 50% or greater margin.

Congressman Goodlatte doesn’t need lobbyist money or corporate donations. He will be the Congressman from Virginia’s 6th Congressional District as long as he chooses to run. But other Members of Congress are not as geographically lucky as is Goodlatte, including some Conservatives who are frequent targets of Democrats.

By May 22, 2015, Congressman Goodlatte scheduled at least three $1,000 a plate breakfasts for wavering Judiciary Committee Conservatives. Money made at these breakfasts went directly to the Conservative’s campaign coffers. While not directly stated, the timing of the breakfasts suggest they might have been intended to influence their vote on patent reform.

The secret to maximizing lobbyist donations is to guarantee the proper bang for the buck. For this reason, Goodlatte, whose rank and power matter to crafting legislation favorable to donors, attended these breakfasts personally, allowing his name to be used in order to ensure a larger turnout. The announcements went out with his name and his picture included. Below is one of the announcements:

June 4th Breakfast

Dear XXX,

Congressman XXX is pleased to announce that Chairman Bob Goodlatte will be the special guest at his June 4th breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club.

With all the critical issues being debated in Congress, this will certainly be a breakfast not to miss.

Details for the June 4th breakfast are below. Please let me know if you or a colleague will be participating.

[…]

Capitol Hill Club

3rd Floor – Speaker’s Room

Donation Request: $1000/PAC – $500/Personal…

Steve King (OH-04), Jim Jordan (OH-04) and Ken Buck (CO-04) were each the recipients of the $1,000 a plate bonanza. Of the three, Iowa Congressman Steve King was arguably the most important. His seniority could embolden other Conservatives to vote against H.R.9. Importantly, a vote against H.R. 9 is akin to going against Congressman Goodlatte and the House leadership. In the 114th Congress, there are consequences to going against leadership. Despite this, King knew well the damage that H.R. 9 would levy on Iowan inventors and small innovation companies. After multiple meetings between inventors and Congressman King’s staff, inventors were lead to believe that Congressman King would vote against the Innovation Act despite the risk. A cascade of conservative votes might follow.

Below are the campaign contributions from the 2015 Federal Election Commission records. The $1,000 a plate breakfasts were held in Q2, so a comparison of Q1 to Q2 campaign contributions sheds some light on the potential amount of money necessary to influence a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Steve King (IA-04) Ken Buck (CO-04) Jim Jordan (OH-04)
Q1 $ $45,293 $62,187 $72,221
Q2 $ $90,692 $129,233 $111,844
Q1 to Q2 Change $45,399 $67,046 $39,623
Percentage 100.23% 107.81% 54.86%
H.R. 9 Vote Yes Didn’t Vote Didn’t Vote

According to the Washington rumor there were many more $1,000 a plate breakfasts for Conservatives on the Judiciary Committee. It is not clear which Members received the benefit of $1,000 a plate breakfasts, but we do know of Members who were leaning to vote NO, but changed their vote to YES on H.R. 9.

Ted Poe (TX-02) Ron DeSantis (FL-06) Mike Bishop (MI-08) Mimi Walters (CA-45) John Ratcliff (TX-04)
Q1 $ 57310 430035 123,514 70,253 77,574
Q2 $ 167997 1001389 160,868 360,698 152,350
Q1 to Q2 Change $110,687 $571,354 $37,354 $290,445 $74,776
Percentage 193.14% 132.86% 30.24% 413.43% 96.39%
HR9 Vote Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

While there might not be a smoking gun that proves that a campaign fundraiser was contingent upon a YES vote on patent reform, the timing of the breakfasts and the vote in Committee on the Innovation Act is curious. Despite a lack of consensus on the House Judiciary Committee the Innovation Act was passed out of Committee by a 24-8 vote on June 14, 2015. It would be truly disturbing if votes could be so easily influenced on any legislation, but particularly H.R. 9, which threatens to ruin the U.S. patent system in order to make it personally most advantageous for a couple dozen companies that would really prefer an abolition of the patent system altogether.

The Author

Paul Morinville

Paul Morinville is Founder and former President of US Inventor, Inc., which is an inventor organization working in Washington DC and around the US to advocate for strong patent protection for inventors and startups. US Inventor has been walking the halls of Congress knocking on doors and sitting down with hundreds of offices to explain the damage suffered by inventors due to patent reforms. Paul is President of SemiComm HK, a Hong Kong company licensing patents in China, and an independent inventor with dozens of U.S. patents and pending patents in enterprise middleware.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 14 Comments comments.

  1. Night Writer September 8, 2015 1:33 pm

    >placed Google employees into key positions within the USPTO, Commerce Department, and The White House, and influenced many votes to pass damaging legislation.

    You forgot the six federal circuit judges that Google approved/selected. We now have a federal circuit that is dominated by non-science/non-patent law judges that professed a dislike of patents before being appointed. We are now suffering under their decisions.

  2. Pro Se September 8, 2015 5:18 pm

    Perhaps one of the best stories I’ve read online that resembles old-school print journalism.

  3. Edward Heller September 8, 2015 6:52 pm

    Paul, you underscore a central problem with representative government — the need to get elected, to finance campaigns, etc. This will always give the wealthy and entitled a better position to influence legislation.

    Fortunately, we have to power of the press to shine the spotlight of publicity on what really is going on. That power is being enhance greatly by the internet. Perhaps in this brave new world, representative government will finally work better.

    So thank, you Paul, for your spotlight on Mr. Goodlatte and his bill.

  4. Randy Landreneau September 8, 2015 8:50 pm

    It is shocking how thin the thread is that holds our constitutionally given rights to the protection of our intellectual property. Thank you, Paul, for finding and disclosing this information. This article has caused me to strengthen my resolve to stop this fatal legislation.

  5. Curious September 8, 2015 9:04 pm

    Congressman Goodlatte is not only the primary driving force behind H.R.9, but importantly, his son was a Facebook executive.
    That explains a lot. Facebook is another one of those companies that uses a lot of intellectual property that they didn’t develop (and didn’t pay to use). You see that in a lot of these “new” technology companies (as opposed to the old technology companies) — they develop/commercialize a product/service and then, after the fact, realize that they’ve stepped all over dozens (hundreds?) of patented technologies. When the time comes to pay the piper, they would rather destroy the patent system than cut back on their huge profit margins (BTW — the reason for these huge profit margins is pretty clear — they don’t pay for the technology that they use).

    a few of the twenty plus Google employees now working in the Obama administration
    Another company with huge profit margins built on the backs of inventions that they didn’t pay to license.

    While the likes of Google and Facebook are leading the way to severely weakening the US patent system, the Chinese are sitting back and wondering if the Americans will be so dumb to give the Chinese unfettered entry into the US technology markets. Without a strong patent system to stop them, the Chinese can throw nearly unlimited amounts of capital and human resources to taking out the big (and little) US tech companies. Today’s consumer won’t hesitate to buy a Chinese product if it costs 25-50% less than a comparable US-designed product.

  6. byleorussianbonzo September 9, 2015 5:14 am

    Frightful, and frightening. Is it any wonder much of the rest of the world regards the US as the world’s biggest banana republic?

  7. EG September 9, 2015 7:32 am

    Paul,

    As a registered Republican, it’s positively ghastly how Goodlatte and Company would accept lobbying dollars from these multi-national Goliaths in exchange for sacrificing American’s innovative small businesses. Believe me, I’ve repeatedly told my local Congressman (who happens to be the current Speaker) that the Republicans shouldn’t be doing this, as well as needing to curb the Royal Nine’s current appetite for overreach into patent law jurisprudence. Whether any of my cries have been heard is, unfortunately, doubtful. And the Democrats are no better and in many cases even worse (e.g., Senator Lahey).

  8. Randy Landreneau September 9, 2015 11:23 am

    Thank you, Paul, for exposing this. How has this once great nation sunk so low? What you have exposed is completely opposed to the ideals of America. Those involved should be shamed and run out of office.

  9. Curious September 9, 2015 11:50 am

    Gene — I try posted something last night, and the system ate it. When I try to repost, it says that I already said that.

  10. Gene Quinn September 9, 2015 12:10 pm

    Curious et al

    Sorry for the problem with our spam filter. I fished a number of comments out of the spam filter on this topic. Not sure why they were sent to spam. I will continue to monitor.

    -Gene

  11. step back September 9, 2015 12:38 pm

    Randy@8
    Shame doesn’t work anymore.
    No one is watching the show.
    You might want to blame the ‘average’ American for not paying more attention to what goes on in Washington D.C.
    However, the average Joe is barely making ends meet in this sad excuse for an economy. Day to day survival takes precedence over the muck that plays for democracy in DC. So the last thing on their minds is, OMG look what’s happening to America’s patent system, look at what’s happening behind closed doors. The first thing is, Dude will I have/find a job tomorrow?

  12. Anon September 12, 2015 7:30 am

    I truly believe that only a concerted effort mirroring the effort that led to the Act of 1952 can salvage the mashed nose of wax that is today’s patent law.

    Reset with clarity and remove – by direct word and action – the re-mashing that the Supreme Court has engaged in with more and more audacity over the years.

    What the Supreme Court has done reminds me of the question: How do you boil a live frog? Over time. The answer now is not a reciprocal “over time,” but rather a more direct, deliberate, clear, simple, straightforward reset of fundamentals – by Congress – and not the Court, combined with a curtailment of future wax nose mashing in no uncertain terms. The Court does need to be rebuked. Politeness is like throwing the wolf at the back door a slab of meat and hoping that it will go away.

    We may well be “officers of the court,” but our duty, our first sworn duty, is not TO the court, but to the higher document that that court too should – and is not – serving.

  13. Paul Morinville September 12, 2015 10:29 pm

    EG @7. Send this article to the Speaker. I think he’ll find it interesting.

  14. John Hardwick September 16, 2015 7:01 am

    There can be no doubt that monied vested interest is used through lobbying of one kind or another to influence US legislation in whatever field, of which IP is only one example. It has ever been so. Perhaps the better-informed connected society will bring a change, but it is very unlikely.