April 23, 2014

avatar

All the Interested Parties? Not Quite.

Here’s a quick quiz to detect whether you’re stuck in Washington groupthink.

There’s a patent reform bill under consideration in Congress. According to a blog entry by Andrew Noyes at the National Journal, a group of Republican senators sent a letter to Rep. Howard Berman, the chair of the relevant House subcommittee, asking that the patent bill be given more consideration before the committee votes on it. Senator Berman responded:

“There have been a number of hearings, briefings, and meetings about these issues over the past four years,” said Berman, who introduced a companion bill, H.R.1908. “We’ve heard from representatives of all the interested parties – from independent inventors, universities, bio-technology, pharmaceutical, software and financial services industries.”

Here’s the quiz: who did Rep. Berman leave off his list of “all the interested parties”?

Rep. Berman’s omission is a common one in Washington. Start listening for this omission, and you’ll be surprised how often you hear it.

I don’t mean to pick on Rep. Berman personally. Okay, maybe I do, just a tiny bit, given some of his past actions such as co-sponsoring the ill-advised Berman-Coble bill that would have legalized denial-of-service attacks against people suspected of sharing infringing content. If this was just one congressman, once, it wouldn’t be worth noting. But given the frequency of this mistake, I think it does reveal something about the standard Washington mindset.

In the case of patent reform, there are complex issues at stake. Changes to patent law can affect innovation and competition in subtle ways. That affects all of the parties Rep. Berman mentioned, as well as the one notable group he left out. Which is …

Ordinary citizens.

Comments

  1. BT says:

    Voters

  2. Joe Baugher says:

    Yes, this is quite true. The ordinary citizen and taxpayer gets left out of all of these discussions in Washington about copyrights and patents, and Congress seems to listen only to large corporations and their lobbyists whenever they consider intellectual property legislation. The Constitution clearly states that the purpose of patents (and intellectual property laws in general) is to promote the advancement of the sciences and the useful arts, not to enrich the large pharmaceutical and software companies. The purpose of patents is not even to provide an income to individual inventors. Such an argument is a confusion between means and ends.

  3. Danny Colligan says:

    I might be stating the obvious when I say one could write a similar blog entry:

    “‘We’ve [received campaign contributions and other kickbacks] from representatives of all the interested parties — from independent inventors, universities, bio-technology, pharmaceutical, software and financial services industries’…

    …That affects all of the parties Rep. Berman mentioned, as well as the one notable group [that contributes considerably less to him, financially speaking]. Which is …

    Ordinary citizens.”

    The politicians know which master they are serving, and ordinary citizens do not have the lobbing clout of the various interested corporations and their respective industry associations.

  4. BK says:

    I actually wrote a book on this very point. here is Chapter 6 (PDF), the relevant chapter to the discussion. [Sorry about the ad on every page; the publisher insisted.] That chapter goes into detail about how the ‘software industry’ is much larger than the Judiciary Committee makes it out to be.

  5. jw says:

    This is one of the big differences between the pre- and post-WW2 consumer movements. Before and during WW2, consumers were regularly included as a part of government hearings and boards that impacted the typical citizen, such as the price control agencies during WW2. There was even talk in the 1930′s and 40′s of creating a government department working on behalf of consumers at the cabinet level. After WW2, such ideas faded away, as a result of government-sponsored sprawl changing shopping patterns and reducing community involvement.

  6. Chris Brand says:

    That’s why part of the petition to the Canadian parliament for users’ rights under copyright asks in part that “to ensure generally that users are recognised as interested parties and are meaningfully consulted about proposed changes to the Copyright Act”.
    Very sad that we have to ask at all, really…

  7. David Alpert says:

    I’m sad that so many of the commenters here say that Congress just listens to people with money, that Congress has no incentive to listen to us, that they’re not going to do the right thing.

    When large groups of people get organized, they can affect Congress – just look at Net Neutrality, where many citizens organized by Free Press and MoveOn and Moby and others overpowered the telcos. But here on Freedom to Tinker, we talk about the problems, but don’t talk about what to do about them.

    Rather than expecting Congress to ask us what’s right, to invite citizens or read the blogs, we need to push their buttons and make our voice heard in a way that they will hear.

    Here’s a longer post about this.

  8. Ed Felten says:

    David,

    I don’t see net neutrality as a victory for anybody, at least not yet.

    If you want people to give money to your organization, you should at least put definite policy positions of the organization on the website, so they know what they would be supporting. All I see on the website are (1) a very short motherhood-and-apple-pie statement of principles, and (2) blog posts. I don’t see much in the way of “we support position X on issue Y” statements, or even “we did X to advance issue Y”, either of which would be a prerequisite for me to donate or urge my readers to do so.

    My general approach is to discuss the issues and let each reader decide for him/herself. Urging specific action drives away readers who disagree.

    I am not a political organizer. We have enough of those already.