Startup News Digest: 11/20/2015

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy. 

Encryption Debates Resurface. Last week’s terrorists attacks in Paris reignited debates over encryption. Officials suspect the attackers may have used encrypted messaging systems to coordinate the plots, (though nothing has been confirmed.) Policymakers are again considering whether the law should require tech companies create “backdoors” for law enforcement, making it easier for officials to track and disrupt threats. Many in the tech community, including Apple, have publicly opposed such backdoors for government, arguing these restricted access points could make their systems more vulnerable.  

$100 Million in Grants for Tech Training. This week, White House representatives were in Baltimore to announce the expansion of its TechHire initiative with the launch of a $100 million grant competition. TechHire, which launched in March, involves education and employer partnerships in dozens of regions across the U.S., all dedicated to training, recruiting, and placing more Americans in tech jobs. Awards from this new grant will go to programs across the country that serve Americans who face barriers to entering the tech sector, whether those are educational, geographical or income-based.

Startup Equity in Highway Bill. A little known piece of startup-friendly legislation has made its way onto the highway bill, the massive federal transportation bill that lawmakers in the House and Senate are scrambling to finalize. This unrelated legislation is the RAISE Act, which would more easily allow startup employees to sell company equity to accredited investors. In October, the House passed the bill unanimously, but it hasn’t yet made its way to the Senate floor. We won’t know until December whether these new rules will remain in the highway bill - federal funding for roads has been extended to December 4 while Congress hashes out the details of the new bill.

Chicago Limits Drones. Chicago’s city council passed a bill banning certain uses of drones. The first bill of its kind, the rules will potentially hinder hobbyist use. Chicago’s ordinance, in line with FAA regulations, prohibits drones from flying above 400 feet, flying within five miles of and flying over schools, churches, hospitals, police stations, and any private property without consent. Chicago has experienced some uncomfortably close encounters with drones: one crashed Midway airport’s runway and another flew frightening close to crowds gathered at Lollapalooza.

Patent Reform will Encourage Innovation. Executive Director Julie Samuels was featured in a series of perspectives on patent reform in the Washington Post. Her perspective: if Congress does not pass patent reform legislation, patents will inhibit the innovation they set out to incentivize. Innovative inventors and young companies are being threatened by “patent trolls” that are wielding bad patents, frivolous infringement allegations, and exploiting loopholes in an expensive patent litigation system. Unfortunately, legislation that would help relieve startups and stop trolls is stalled in Congress - largely because of incumbent interests, e.g. the pharmaceutical industry (PhRMA). The bottom line: the one-size-fits-all patent system that has long worked for PhRMA is not working for software.

ICYMI: November is National Entrepreneurship Month. In other news from the White House, President Obama has issued an official presidential proclamation designating the month of November as National Entrepreneurship Month. “Since our Nation's founding, our progress has been fueled by an inherent sense of purpose and ingenuity in our people. Americans have more opportunities now than ever before to carry forward this legacy - to create something, to raise capital in creative ways, and to pursue aspirations,” states the proclamation. While we’re always celebrating the work of entrepreneurs, it’s great to see policymakers and organizations across the country rally behind them this month.