Startup News Digest: 6/9/17

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy. To receive this weekly digest in your inbox, sign up at

Tech Stages Internet Day of Action for Net Neutrality. In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent announcement that it intends to roll back Obama-era open internet protections, a number of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Etsy, Amazon, Mozilla, and Kickstarter, have publicly announced that they will hold a national day of action in protest. On July 12, the companies, along with numerous other organizations (including Engine), will change their websites to bring awareness to the FCC’s attempts to undermine the free and open internet. At stake are the rules implemented under a Tom Wheeler-led FCC in 2015 that prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling internet users. The effort is reminiscent of the wide-scale internet blackout orchestrated by tech companies in protest against SOPA and PIPA in January of 2012, which would have resulted in significant censorship on the internet. If you or your company are interested in participating, you can sign up here

Silicon Valley Gets A Little Too Real. This week, HBO’s Silicon Valley took on an issue that is all too familiar to startups across the country: the threat of frivolous patent litigation. Despite the fact that Pied Piper eventually outsmarts the patent troll, the startup ends up paying more in attorney fees than it would have cost to just settle. As Engine Policy Director, Rachel Wolbers, explains in an op-ed in Recode, while the show is meant to be humorous, this is the reality for many startups, prohibiting them from investing in engineers, marketing and job creation. The Supreme Court’s recent patent decisions have been helpful in the fight against patent trolls, but there is much more that Congress can do to help reduce the threat of frivolous patent litigation.

Michelle Lee Exits the USPTO. Michelle Lee, the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office abruptly resigned on Tuesday. Lee, who had previously worked at Google, had been a champion of tech issues at the office, working on implementing key provisions of the 2011 America Invents Act, particularly those surrounding patent quality. The Commerce Department has tapped Joseph Matal, an associate solicitor at the USPTO, to serve as the interim director of the intellectual property agency.  

Apple to Build New AI Capabilities into Macs and iPhones. Your smartphone is about to get a whole lot smarter. At Apple’s annual conference for developers, the company announced its plan to include new artificial intelligence (AI) functions to its core products. In addition to broadened capabilities within the Apple software, the company intends to allow third-party programmers to tap into Apple’s AI abilities, including speech recognition and image processing. This opens the door for new and innovative collaborations between the computing giant and startups who have developed artificial intelligence and machine learning offerings. "We want to make powerful machine learning easy to use in your apps," Vice President Craig Federighi said. Count us in.

Tech Pledges Its Support for the Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump may have withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement last week, but hundreds of mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors responded by telling the world, “We Are Still In.” In an open letter to the international community, tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, eBay, Lyft, and Uber joined forces with state and local officials to push back against Trump’s actions, pledging to continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement. The letter reads, “Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2℃ and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.” Interested in adding your company’s name to the growing list? Learn more here.

Join Us for Encryption 101 Event in DC. Join Engine, TechFreedom, and the Charles Koch Institute on June 13 at 12:30 pm in the Rayburn House Office Building for “Nuts and Bolts: An Introduction to Encryption.” Panelists Ed Felten and Mark Althouse will lead a robust, off-the-record conversation on the fundamentals of encryption. We’ll explore how the technology functions, discuss its practical applications, and consider the role of policy in the future of technology. Lunch from Chick-fil-A will be provided. Learn more and RSVP here.