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INTERVIEW: U.S. Rep Blake Farenthold on Patent Reform, SLAPP and More

Kelsey Pommer, Sr. Coordinator, Digital Media Marketing, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™
We had the opportunity to speak with U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

Smart policies help grow our economy and unleash innovations. That’s why we are honoring several leaders in politics for helping to protect and support the tech industry in our U.S. policies. One of those honorees is U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

We had the opportunity to speak with Representative Farenthold and this is what he had to say.

Why is it important for the United States to maintain pro-innovation policies?
"One of our leading sectors is the tech sector, it’s one of the places the U.S. leads the world in is innovation. A lot of it’s built overseas but the vast majority is created with intellectual capital we have in the United States. We have the best and brightest folks who put it together, so we definitely need to support innovation and not crush them with regulations."

What are the next steps for combatting patent abuse?
"We have to do reform, at the very least, to the patent litigation process to get rid of frivolous lawsuits and patent trolls. We’ve got to bring the cost of defending frivolous lawsuits down. We need to take a look at the American Invents Act, the last patent reform, and see what’s working and what’s not. Now is the time to tweak it, and dealing with patent trolls is one of the top tweaking things that needs to be done. We need to be wary of using the licensing agreements. More software is being used to take rights away from people who think they  bought something, which is addressed in the YODA Act. So if you bought something where software is embedded, it should be like you bought it, should not be able to keep you from reselling it or doing stuff with it based on the software license."

What are SLAPP lawsuits and how is Congress working to protect consumers’ online reviews and speech?
"Another place where we’re seeing abuses in the court system is the SLAPP suits. If someone posts something negative, whether it’s true or their opinion, both of which are protected speech under the First Amendment, costly lawsuits are being used to silence people who are posting negative reviews. We need to make it cheaper, easier and quicker to get rid of these lawsuits so that people are talking about matters of interest to the public and are expressing their opinion or are saying something that’s true, which is what the anti-SLAPP legislation does. It’s amazing, just by filing a lawsuit, how you can silence people or stop people from telling the truth, or extort money out of people. It’s tort reform in making it easier for people to seek justice, but also for people who are frivolously brought into a lawsuit to get out of it without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars."

What issue do you have on your radar that you think will pop up in the next 2 years?
"I don’t think there’s going to be anything more important than cyber security. We’ve got to come up with ways to protect our technology systems that are more and more being connected to the Internet. I went and bought a new hot water heater and one of the options I could have gotten was to connect to the Internet. As more and more “things” in your house are connected to the Internet, they need to be secured so hackers can’t come in and set your house on fire by making your toaster overload. So cyber security, both in keeping your traditional computer safe, and in the Internet of Things. I also think, on a macro level, Congress is going to need to adjust its thinking towards a sharing economy where it’s less about necessarily owning something as having access to things. Rather than buying music, you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify. Rather than buying a car, you’re riding Lyft or Uber. Rather than having a vacation home, you’re using a VBRO. I think we’re going to see cyber security come into play as we move away from traditional banking and into more online and cell phone-based banking. As stores move more to kiosks, partially driven by the minimum wage, I think that’s going to be a big one. Over a 10-year timeframe, autonomous vehicles and using technology to ease some of our transportation concerns."


Representative Farenthold is being honored at this year’s Digital Patriots Dinner on April 20 in Washington, DC.