Startup News Digest 8/19/2016

Our Weekly Take on Some of the Biggest Stories in Startup and Tech Policy.

How Universities Can Help Fight Trolls. We’ve lamented again and again that the current patent system just isn’t working for innovators. There’s been lots of talk about ways to curb abusive patent litigation tactics, but efforts to push legislative solutions through Congress have stalled for the time being. Still, there are creative ways to combat troll tactics in the short-term. This week, Engine announced a partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Reclaim Invention. The initiative aims to address one of the unexpected sources of troll behavior: American universities. Did you know that universities often license or sell their inventions to patent trolls? The Reclaim Invention initiative encourages universities to make efforts to keep their inventions out of the hands of patent trolls by signing the Public Interest Patent Pledge (PIPP). This small step can ensure that university patents are used responsibly and don’t undermine innovation. Learn more about the initiative and encourage your school to sign the pledge here.

ED Launches EQUIP Pilot. Last October, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced the creation of a new pilot program—the EQUIP (Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships) experiment—to allow federal financial aid to be used for selected “non-traditional” educational programs (like coding bootcamps). On Tuesday, the Administration officially launched the pilot, revealing the eight partnerships that will receive a total of $17 million in loans and grants to help cover the costs of enrollment for low-income students. Here’s how it will work: non-traditional providers will partner with established, accredited colleges and universities to provide innovative learning and training opportunities. Throughout the experiment, each partnership will be reviewed and monitored by a quality-assurance entity. The limited pilot will give ED an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of these alternative programs and explore how to best monitor their quality.

Google Fiber Goes Wireless. Over the past six years, Google Fiber has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lay fiber-optic cables in a series of pilot cities, providing Internet (and TV) at higher speeds and lower prices than their competitors. But since its start, Google Fiber has only managed to make inroads into six metropolitan areas, reflecting the difficulty associated with laying fiber-optic cables. Not only is the process expensive and slow-moving—it can involve digging up roads and securing regulatory and permitting approval—it often requires competing telecoms to acquiesce to Google using their telephone poles to string fiber from main trunk lines to individual homes. As a result of these challenges, Google Fiber is suspending its projects in San Jose and Portland, and is beginning to shift its focus to providing high-speed internet using wireless technologies instead. Its recent purchase of Webpass, an SF-based wireless ISP, could accelerate Google’s plan to provide fiber-optic speeds via wireless. Regardless of its strategy, we see competition from Google in the telecom market as a positive development. While Google Fiber is only deployed in a tiny fraction of markets, its presence has nevertheless prodded incumbents to lower speeds and upgrade their networks—which some say was part of Google’s plan from the beginning.

Uber Settlement Rejected. In April, Uber reached a settlement in a pair of high-profile class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts, agreeing to pay $100 million to the roughly 385,000 drivers represented in the cases. But on Thursday, a U.S. judge rejected the settlement, ruling that it did not adequately compensate the drivers. The ruling sends attorneys on both sides back to the negotiating table in a case that is seen as pivotal in the debate over how Uber drivers and other similar “gig economy” workers should be classified. If the two sides are not able to reach a new settlement that satisfies the judge’s concerns, they will be forced to go to trial.

CCIA Proposes Alternative to Set-top Box Alternative. The debate over the future of the set-top box got a bit more complicated this week when tech advocacy group CCIA threw a new alternative proposal into the mix. In case you haven’t been following, earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed rules that would open up the set-top box market to more competition. But like many proceedings at the FCC, the proposal was met with intense opposition from the cable industry and a number of Congressional members. Then, in June the cable industry pitched an alternative proposal that would "ditch the box" in favor of an app made by each cable company. While some have lauded the cable alternative as a constructive effort, others have expressed concerns that the proposal is “light in detail and heavy with loopholes,” and just another a strategy to switch off third-party competition. CCIA has now released their own alternative proposal, in what appears to be an effort to bridge the divide between the FCC and cable industry proposals. Whether the FCC will incorporate any of CCIA’s suggestions into its own proposal is TBD.