Congress Talks Self-Driving Cars. As autonomous vehicles increasingly move from the realm of science fiction to literally hitting the pavement, policymakers are grappling with a broad range of issues presented by these new technologies, including safety, security, liability, and ethics. On Tuesday, Congress had the opportunity to dive deeper on some of these topics, as the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee convened a hearing on self-driving vehicles that included panelists from GM, Toyota, Volvo, Lyft, and the RAND Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty. The participating industry giants called on Congress to relax existing safety regulations, such as the requirement that any vehicle have both a steering wheel and floor pedals, which they argued currently limit innovation. They also noted that the existing patchwork of state laws was stifling growth (Lyft called out California’s proposed laws in particular) and urged policymakers to do more to explicitly limit the ability of states to legislate on this emerging technology. To coincide with the hearing, several members highlighted efforts to improve regulatory flexibility for the industry (including potential legislation from Sens. John Thune and Gary Peters), and there will most certainly be more to come.
On Tuesday, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs. In a statement, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Beyond the obvious harm these policies would have on refugees, immigrants, and the U.S.'s standing in the world community, we wanted to make sure the President understood that these policies would have a major detrimental impact on entrepreneurship and innovation.” Signatories ranged from early-stage startups like NourishWise in Nashville, TN and WorkHound in Des Moines, IA, to later-stage companies like Pinterest, General Assembly, and Vimeo. The letter was also signed by almost 100 individual investors, including Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Venky Ganesan, Jeff Clavier, and William H. Draper III.
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against President Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries and refugees from entering the U.S., maintaining a lower court’s freeze on the order. As a result, immigrants and refugees who were previously barred from the country under Trump’s EO can continue to enter the U.S.
Today, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the widely supported, broadly bipartisan Email Privacy Act, making this the second consecutive year that this common-sense update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has passed the House. The bill makes a critical update to existing digital privacy laws that clarifies that law enforcement must obtain a warrant—except in certain clearly defined emergencies—before accessing an individual's electronic communications.
In a startling move after only one week in office, President Trump signed an Executive Order last Friday limiting the movement of immigrants—including lawful visa holders—and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S. In a statement, Evan Engstrom, Engine’s executive director, said “The executive order is both morally and economically misguided, and sets a dangerous precedent that signals to the rest of the world that America is no longer open for innovation.” Hundreds of companies and organizations released statements of their objection, including Google, Apple, AirBnB, Microsoft, the Internet Association, CCIA, CTA, and TechNet. As immigrants play an essential role in building and contributing to the success of American startups, we urge our fellow members of the startup ecosystem to sign our letter to President Trump to express their opposition.
The startup community is deeply troubled by the Administration’s decision to limit the movement of immigrants—including lawful visa holders—into the U.S. on the basis of religion and country of origin—a move that came with no forewarning and has engendered uncertainty for many people, including employees at America’s startups. The executive order is both morally and economically misguided, and sets a dangerous precedent that signals to the rest of the world that America is no longer open for innovation.
Earlier this week, it was announced that President Trump had tapped Ajit Pai to chair the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Pai is currently the senior Republican commissioner at the agency and as such, his nomination will not require Senate approval. Engine is hopeful that as chairman, Pai will preserve Chairman Wheeler’s tradition of championing America’s innovators and ensuring that startups and entrepreneurs have a voice in the critical debates impacting our 21st century innovation economy. While we have disagreed with Commissioner Pai on a number of issues during his tenure (most notably on net neutrality), we see promise in areas such as his proposal for the creation of Gigabit Opportunity Zones and his efforts around promoting the growth of internet-based services. Expanding access to broadband and preventing incumbent gatekeepers from undermining competition are critical to fostering a thriving startup ecosystem, and we look forward to continuing the important work of ensuring that our communications infrastructure supports innovation in all corners of the U.S.
This week marked the five year anniversary of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) protest—a coordinated blackout of more than 50,000 websites meant to push back against the online censorship that the bills threatened. As Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom explains in a new blog post, “the bills themselves would have allowed the government, at the behest of copyright owners, to blacklist and functionally deny access to websites accused of hosting infringing content, undermining the fundamental architecture of a free and open internet.”
Under Director Michelle Lee, the Patent Office has made real strides toward fixing patent quality. While much work in that area remains to be done, we are encouraged by the steps she and her team have taken and are pleased that she will remain in her role in the incoming Administration so that this important work can continue. Startups in particular rely on a well-functioning patent system, and under Director Lee's leadership, the Patent Office has welcomed the startup community to play a role in that debate. We look forward to continuing working with her to ensure that that the patent system promotes rather than hinders innovation.
The Supreme Court’s December 2016 decision in Apple vs. Samsung reversed a dangerous lower court decision that would have allowed patent plaintiffs to claim the total value of a product containing an allegedly infringing design feature, even if that design feature only provides a small amount of the product’s value. While total profits awards may arguably have been more plausible in an age when devices were less complicated and the design of the object constituted a significant portion of its value, the complexity of modern devices renders total profits awards for design patent infringement particularly illogical.
The patent system was established by our founding fathers as a tool to promote innovation and invention. But too often, America’s most creative, forward-thinking startups find themselves interacting with the patent system in a less-than-ideal way: on the receiving end of an infringement suit or a letter threatening as much. Bad actors that have amassed hundreds and thousands of overbroad, low-quality patents (colloquially known as “patent trolls”) target businesses, using these patents as proverbial weapons with the goal of forcing companies into costly settlements.
Considering tech’s strong presence in DC politics, it’s hard to believe that half a decade ago, the notion that the internet community was capable of any unified political engagement seemed far-fetched. But exactly five years ago today, the nation’s political apparatus quickly came to understand just how powerful a constituency the internet community could be.
On Friday, the White House released an advance copy of its final International Entrepreneur Rule, which will allow qualifying foreign entrepreneurs to build their startups in the U.S. The final rule will be published in the Federal Register today and will become effective on July 17, 2017.
Today, we’re launching #StartupsEverywhere, a campaign celebrating the diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are taking root in every corner of the country. The project will showcase exciting developments in a variety of rising startup communities through weekly interviews with startup ecosystem leaders. The profiles will look at issues ranging from the challenges faced by these communities to the unique qualities that set them apart from traditional technology hubs. Look out for our first profile this coming Wednesday, and stay tuned for a new featured community every week.