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A Bipartisan, Consensus Approach to Innovation Policy

In encouraging news given today’s climate, Congress is making progress on legislation that will promote innovation.  Even more encouraging?  The legislation and process involved in this progress are both bipartisan and bicameral.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act, introduced in the Senate by Senators Hatch and Coons, and in the House by Representatives Collins, Nadler, and Jeffries, shows tremendous promise when it comes to bolstering software innovation – so important to our daily lives, and to the health of our national economy as a whole.

The reality is that our economy is increasingly reliant on cloud computing.  Businesses of all sizes, in all industries, use cloud services to improve efficiency.  Software runs the cloud, and every day software companies are investing in research and development to improve its operations – helping countless individuals and businesses worldwide.

The innovations and improvements that spring from that R&D often are the most valuable property a company owns – they may constitute the know-how that differentiates, for example, a company in the US from a competitor overseas.  And that know-how is often protected as trade secrets.

Trade secrets are often thought of as involving a manufacturing process or a sales list, but they can also be the algorithm or computer code that ensures data in the cloud is routed to a customer in the most efficient, reliable, and secure method possible.  If a company can rely on a harmonized, reliable trade secret system to protect its prized know-how, that company is more likely to collaborate in research and development – which then improves the innovation ecosystem as a whole.  In short, progress is curbed and innovation stunted without effective trade secret safeguards.

Despite the importance of trade secret protection in our culture of innovation, our outdated current laws mean that a trade secret owner has no federal civil remedy if its know-how is stolen.  The Defend Trade Secrets Act would provide that important, missing remedy, and help usher in the harmonized system that will benefit not only software innovation but our entire American economy.

Senate and House Judiciary Committee leaders have encouraged a collaborative, consensus-oriented approach toward this legislation. As a result, the Defend Trade Secrets Act has been cosponsored by more than 60 Senators and 120 Members of the House. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved related legislation last Congress, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recently did the same.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Defend Trade Secrets Act in early April.  Action by lawmakers to modernize this important area is good news for us all, and for the groundbreaking innovation of our future.

Update (April 4, 2016): Read our statement about the passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act: http://www.bsa.org/news-and-events/news/2016/april/en04042016senatepassagedefendtradesecretsact?sc_lang=en-US

Victoria Espinel

Author:

Victoria Espinel is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. She leads strategic efforts that help shape the technology landscape in 60 countries through work in BSA’s 10 global offices.

Espinel also serves as the President of Software.org: the BSA Foundation. Software.org is an independent and nonpartisan international research organization created to help policymakers and the broader public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society.

Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations as President Obama’s advisor on intellectual property and, before that, as the first ever chief US trade negotiator for intellectual property and innovation at USTR. She was also a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

Espinel is a founding and ongoing co-sponsor of Girls Who Code’s Washington, DC, summer immersion program, which empowers young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She speaks before audiences around the world to build visibility for the amazing things people can do with software, and encourages businesses, governments, and the public to support a policy environment that will enable even more software breakthroughs.

Espinel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society. She was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), the principal advisory group for the US government on international trade. She holds an LLM from the London School of Economics, a JD from Georgetown University Law School, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriaespinel.

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