It was an action-packed adventure in Washington with my son. Lots of fun, definitely exciting, and best of all, everything went according to plan with no hiccups.
Back in May, I was invited to Washington DC by Application Developers Alliance to support Patent Reform initiatives in Congress. As part of that event, I participated in the House Small Business Roundtable on Patents. Other participants there included Engine and Consumer Electronics Association, along with trade associations for construction, retail and restaurants. And three Congressmen presided. But two of us weren’t from trade associations. Todd Moore, who is an Arlington-based software developer, and I were small business owners, trying to make an honest living. I could tell that he and I had the biggest impact on that meeting with the Congressmen because it was our personal stories.
(For more background info on my legal struggle against a patent troll and for how you help, visit http://www.endpatentabuse.com)
Apparently, both Engine and Consumer Electronics also felt our stories were compelling, because they invited us back for another session to meet with about 35 Congressmen, first individually with ten members, then within a larger briefing at the end of the day.
My son David had expressed an interest in coming and experiencing the day. I told him he would basically lay low and introduce himself, but then be an observer. He thought that sounded reasonable and that the trip would be worthwhile. Plus, who can resist 14 hours in the car with their awesome dad?
We set out early, leaving a little after 6 AM. The trip was uneventful and we rolled into DC in the early afternoon. After checking into our hotel, which was only four blocks from the White House, we set out on foot to see some quick touristy stuff. The White House was first. We passed a statue of Marquis de Lafayette and a protest group and joined the throng taking selfies. Then, we walked to the Washington Monument
and up the Mall. I hadn’t walked the Washington Mall in years, and I was surprised at how much it was torn up in the midst of construction. Two-thirds of the Mall was like a battlefield, but a portion near the Capitol was in good shape. We checked out the Air and Space Museum for a couple hours and then trudged two miles back to the hotel for an early bedtime.
In the morning, we successfully navigated the Metro to the Capitol South station (not a trivial task for a newbie), including passing a talented group of more than a dozen trombone players on the way. Cool!
Consumer Electronics Association has a base of operations just about two blocks from the House office buildings, so we met there. Todd Moore arrived shortly after me, and consultants and lobbyists from various groups trickled in. I got to meet two other really great small business owners — well maybe not as small businesses as mine! Kate Doerksen of online eyewear company Ditto, and Jeff Glueck of well-known Foursquare. All three of the business owners were super-smart, hard working, and really nice people. And all of them, like me, had a huge negative experience with a patent troll.
We went largely as a group, throughout the day where we met with Congressional Members and Staffers. We met with the following Members of Congress or their staff:
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rules Committee
Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT)
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
I won’t go over each meeting or individual reactions, but here are my takeaways from the meetings. First, they do acknowledge abuse of the patent system has on small businesses. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the other side has muddled the issue and made certain members worried about changing the patent system. Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries along with Universities have for some reason taken the position against this legislation to help protect small businesses. The funny thing is that the proposed legislation would not weaken the intellectual property rights of legitimate innovation. This bill is to remove the financial incentives to abuse our patent system. It is to protect small businesses, and it’s very limited in scope that I don’t think it would have a negative effect on those type of big businesses. In fact, I believe that this legislation will actually strengthen our system by cleaning up the scourge of bad patents and patent abuse that have cast a negative light on the entire US patent system.
The consensus is that the House bill will pass, but not by a wide margin as Biotech, Pharma and Universities are pushing hard to maintain the status quo, even at the expense of small business. I guess Macchiavelli had it right when he wrote: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate change. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old way, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new way.” And then there’s the Senate bill, which is a whole other thing, but one step at a time.
One highlight of the day meeting with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Republican from Texas), who strongly supports the legislation. . His meeting started with a lively photo op with the Congressman and plenty of friendly banter. When I went to take my picture with him, he yanked the water bottle which was sticking out of my pocket. Throwing it to the side, he said “you don’t want that in the picture” and my son and I quickly posed for the picture with him.
Another highlight was meeting with Freshman Congressman Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). At just 35 years old, he is one of the ten youngest members of Congress. Tech-savvy and approachable, Ruben brings a new perspective that understands some of the newer issues, including how tech industries really suffer at the hands of patent abusers, hence the need for patent reform.
Mid-day, I received a healthy a dose of drama from the pro-troll camp that doesn’t want to lose their gravy train. On Twitter, one opponent equated my activities on Capitol Hill to “working against the cure for breast cancer and childhood leukemia by killing patents.” He ended his Tweet with the oh-so-classy “WTF?” I guess if you want to fight for change, you had better be prepared for a little mud to be slung. I think it’s pretty transparent though. This is the type of people we’re fighting against.
Finally, it was off to the Energy and Commerce Briefing at 4:00 PM, where the four business owners would present our stories to staffers representing 25 Congressmen.
We were in a larger room this time with our table facing the audience. It was the last meeting of the day, and I presented my story with a little extra passion. The audience actively listened, and there were some good followup questions.
I hope they do what needs to be done, and that they don’t cave to the big industries that frankly won’t even be affected. The only ones that will suffer will be the abusers of our patent system. Stay tuned!