We Didn’t Fail on Patent Reform: An Open Letter to the Media, Congress and Tech

This post originally appeared in re/code

Last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy unceremoniously pulled patent reform off the Senate Judiciary calendar -- denying a good piece of compromise legislation a vote -- reportedly under pressure from Sen. Harry Reid, who was reportedly under pressure from the trial lawyers’ lobbying arm. This took many of us who have been working hard to fix a dangerous patent troll problem by surprise. And not a pleasant one.

I’ve taken some time to reflect in the aftermath of this failed bill. I’ve looked for a lesson, a single take-away. None exists. But some points must be made, to the media, who I think have largely missed the point; to D.C. insiders, whose failure to make patent reform happen will have real consequences; and to the tech community, whose hard work has paid off but who still faces an uphill battle in navigating policy and politics.

First, to the media who report that tech is “D.C.’s biggest loser” and highlight “Silicon Valley's lost year in Washington”: you’ve got your story wrong. For starters, if you’re living in the same political universe that I am, it should be clear that this Congress is notorious for getting nothing done. It should come as no surprise that tech’s causes are not miraculously turning into legislation. No one’s are.

Still, so-called tech issues are driving political debates at all levels of government. The movement for patent reform has already had a serious chilling effect on patent trolls, and it’s far from over, as courts and states keep chipping away at the troll “business model”. And other issues that tech traditionally cares about -- immigration, privacy reform like an update to ECPA, government surveillance, and net neutrality -- dominate headlines. Many have turned into social movements that are not at all limited to the “tech community,” and each will continue to shape policy in this do-nothing Congress, and hopefully in the more productive ones that come next.

Second, to D.C. policymakers: when you failed to even put patent reform to a vote in the Senate you taught many proponents of reform what all too many knew already, that politics is “pay-to-play” and that deep, entrenched interests make it nearly impossible to get anything meaningful done in D.C. What many of you failed to recognize, however, is that the so-called “tech community” is actually becoming the American electorate at large. Soon, there will be no distinction between the “tech community” and the rest of the country. As today’s digital natives turn 18, they all become tech voters. The politicians who understand that, and work to legislate policies that help technologies and the startups who create them thrive, will be the future of this country.

Finally, to tech. Two messages: the work you did and the community you built to support patent reform did help. But we need to do more.