“If Congress really wants to take on Big Tech and its lack of accountability, it must do more than hold hearings and issue reports. Policymakers must strengthen, not weaken, intellectual property rights.”
Over the past several years, Congress has raised a long overdue microscope to Big Tech and its worst practices and as a result, the relationship between Washington, DC and Silicon Valley has changed tremendously. Rather than being feted by policymakers, Big Tech is now being forced to answer tough questions.
Elected officials are now more aware of Big Tech’s reach and impact on our elections, security, and data collection – and they are not liking what they see. These companies have intruded on nearly every aspect of American lives and have avoided any responsibility or accountability.
In response, Members of Congress have held hearings and introduced legislation in an attempt to protect the American people from the massive overreach of these companies. But as we look at ways to curtail Big Tech’s everyday influence, including collecting our personal data and erroneously censoring our posts, we must also pay attention to how these companies are growing their monopolistic power – especially via the exploitation of weak intellectual property laws.
The Push to Weaken IP
Once upon a time, the most successful American companies were built on a foundation of innovation and the development of new technology. Today, gigantic companies like Apple, Cisco, Intel and Google aren’t developing, buying or even licensing technology anymore. Instead, they’re just stealing it. And thus far, they’ve been able to do so because they keep pushing policies in Congress that further weaken our nation’s intellectual property rights.
Last year, Apple, Cisco, Intel and Google filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), claiming that the Office was being too deferential to innovative companies that were seeking to protect their own patents from being violated and abused by Big Tech. Despite their best efforts, Big Tech actually lost the lawsuit in their own backyard of Silicon Valley. Big Tech also lost similar challenges in the court of appeal.
In response, Big Tech decided to go back to Capitol Hill with an attempt to change existing laws, and try to get through legislation that they could not get through either the administration or the courts. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was there to help. In September, Leahy introduced the Restoring the America Invents Act, legislation that would give Big Tech even more power and make innovators, small businesses and patent owners even more vulnerable.
The Innovation Alliance, a coalition of research and development-based companies dedicated to a strong patent system, warned that Leahy’s changes would only serve to benefit big tech companies that “many in Congress believe are already too powerful.”
Weak IP laws only reduce the ability of innovative companies, such as startups, to compete with Big Tech, and so enable Big Tech to get even bigger. They also reduce the number of individuals and companies willing to invest in creating new technologies. Worse yet, weak IP laws will also serve to make the United States less competitive, as the most innovative companies will move their research and development overseas, away from America’s Big Tech monopolies.
Not Too Late, Leahy
If Congress really wants to take on Big Tech and its lack of accountability, it must do more than hold hearings and issue reports. Policymakers must strengthen, not weaken, intellectual property rights. Only then will these companies begin to play by the same rules as everyone else. And as Senator Leahy now looks toward retirement and cementing his own legacy, he should consider whether he wants to be remembered as carrying water for Big Tech. It’s not too late to do the right thing.
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