From our Hill Sources: The House and Senate are both in recess until after Labor Day. As lawmakers meet with constituents in their districts and states, some are making up their minds on the Iran nuclear deal. (Share your voice.) Last week, two more Senators came out supporting, and another opposing the deal.
This week, we are spotlighting patent reform. Both the House and Senate worked on bills addressing “patent trolls”, but it’s unclear when we can expect a vote. Also, the House announced another hearing on the 2012 Benghazi attacks during which former Secretary Clinton will testify.
POPVOX news! On August 20 in San Francisco, POPVOX will join fellow civic entrepreneurs and Democratic Presidential candidate, former Maryland Governor, Martin O'Malley, to discuss improving civic engagement through technology. (Learn more.)
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry made an historic trip to Cuba to re-open the American embassy (check out the Embassy’s website), but the next steps in US-Cuba relations are for Congress to take. For example, some Members of Congress see Cuba as a new market to export food and agriculture. But there are also other interests in developing relations, such as the availability of Cuban-developed drugs. For example, a drug that has saved the limbs of diabetes patients worldwide has been banned in the US, but may become available for clinical trials.
(Photo from the State Dept. blog)
Traveling with Senator Kerry was a bipartisan group of eight Members of Congress: Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Jeff Flake (R-AZ); and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA); Jim McGovern (D-MA); Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Karen Bass (D-CA). Beyond the Cuban visit, Congress will be responsible for ensuring that the embassy is funded and staffed via the appropriations process. Also, the Senate must confirm the President's nominee for Ambassador to Cuba.
Prior to leaving for recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed three amendments to the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill related to Cuba:
- Senator Moran’s Cuba Travel Ban Repeal Amendment: Would lift the travel ban on US citizens to Cuba. “I also believe allowing US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage with Cubans would enhance Cuba’s prospect for freedom, liberty and economic opportunity,” explained the sponsor.
- Senator Tester’s Cuba 180-Day Shipping Prohibition Repeal Amendment: Would repeal the requirement that a vessel entering a port or place in Cuba may not load or unload freight at any place in the United States within 180 days without a license issued by the Secretary of the Treasury. (Read amendment text)
- Senator Boozman’s Cuba Private Credit for Agriculture Amendment: Mirrors legislation he previously introduced: Agricultural Export Expansion Act (HR 3306) “would change a provision in current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for US farmers and exporters,” according to the sponsors.
Bills Related to US-Cuba Relations
POWER Cuba Act (HR 3306)
Sponsor: Bobby Rush (D-IL) “Would authorize the export of energy resources, energy technologies and related services to Cuba,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would promote market access for the efficient exploration, production, storage, supply and distribution of energy resources to our neighbor 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This would include the exportation of crude oil, as well as American technology and technical assistance in developing Cuba’s clean and renewable energy sectors.” (Read bill text)
Cuba Trade Act (HR 3238 and in the Senate, S 1543)
Sponsor: Tom Emmer (R-MN) “Would lift the Cuba embargo and allow for businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of this new market,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)
Cuba DATA Act (HR 3055 and in the Senate, S 1389)
Sponsor: Kevin Cramer (R-ND) “Would allow US telecommunications and Internet companies to expand their services to and sell their communications devices in Cuba. Cuba is one of the least wired and connected countries in the western hemisphere,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
Upcoming Congressional Votes on the Iran Nuclear Deal
All Eyes on the Senate
Before leaving for recess, the Senate agreed to begin considering the nuclear deal on Sept. 8. Last week, we heard from two more Senators on the Iran nuclear deal. Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar both came out in support of the deal. (Read Sen. Franken’s statement and Sen. Klobuchar’s statement)
“It's worth noting that many of the restrictions in the deal expire after 15 years—leading some to express concerns about what might happen in year 16. There will still be major checks on Iran's nuclear program after that date, including continued heightened monitoring and permanent, specific prohibitions on several of the steps necessary to build a bomb. Iran must never, ever have a nuclear weapon — and we will still have every option we currently have, up to and including the use of military force, to prevent that from happening….”
“That said, we don't know what the world will look like in 15 years. As long as this regime holds power, Iran will represent a dangerous threat to our security. But it's possible that, by 2031, Iran may no longer be controlled by hard-liners determined to harm our interests. More than 60% of Iran's population is under the age of 30. These young Iranians are increasingly well-educated and pro-American.” — Sen. Al Franken
Also last week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) came out in opposition to the Iran agreement. (Read his statement.)
“While I have supported the negotiations that led to the JCPOA from the beginning, I cannot vote in support of this deal. The JCPOA does contain benefits in terms of limiting Iran’s ability to produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon for a period of time, particularly at its known nuclear facilities. But these benefits are outweighed by severe limitations the JCPOA places on Congress and future administrations in responding to Iran’s non-nuclear behavior in the region.”
From our Hill Sources: Senator Flake’s recent statement opposing the deal is significant because President Obama had been courting his support for weeks. When the President flew to Africa, Senator Flake accompanied him on Air Force One, and the two had a long conversation about the agreement. (It’s a 15 hour flight!)
So far, 57 Senators oppose the Iran nuclear deal, and another 13 are still undecided.
Meanwhile, the White House has indicated that the President will veto any Congressional disapproval resolution, but they are confident that they will have support for the Iran nuclear deal, according to Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
From our Hill Sources: The final text of the resolution that the Senate will vote on has not been publicly released — and it may not be until the Senate has enough votes to pass it. The Senate needs 60 votes to end debate on legislation, known as cloture, before it is put to a vote, and 67 votes to override the President's veto. So far, 57 Senators oppose the Iran nuclear deal, or are leaning toward opposition. 30 Senators are supporting the deal, or are leaning toward supporting it, and another 13 are still undecided. (Source)
Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced "legislation that would prevent the implementation of the Obama Administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran." According to Chairman Royce, "the agreement gives Iran permanent sanctions relief, but in exchange only temporarily restrains Iran’s nuclear program."
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) Disapproving of the agreement transmitted to Congress by the President on July 19, 2015, relating to the nuclear program of Iran. (Read resolution text)
From our Hill Sources: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) announced that the House may vote on Congressman Royce's resolution after the recess in September.
Last month, the United States along with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China signed a deal with Iran to substantially limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions. On July 19, the State Department officially transmitted the agreement to Congress—triggering the 60-day Congressional review period set by legislation passed by Congress in May. During this review period, Congress must vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval (or opt to do nothing). The 60-day review period expires on Sept. 17, 2015.
Learn more about the deal and how the process works in our Iran Nuclear Deal Issue Spotlight
Patent Reform Moves in the House and Senate
Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees passed legislation to curb “patent trolling.” Patent trolls use “weak or poorly granted patents” to file numerous patent infringement lawsuits against American businesses “with the hope of securing a quick payday,” according to patent reform bill sponsors.
In recent years, "there has been an explosion of abusive patent litigation designed not to reward innovation and enforce intellectual property, but to threaten companies in order to extract settlements based on questionable claims," according to the Obama Administration. Such firms are known as Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) or "patent trolls." And defendants and licensees in these lawsuits paid out $29 billion in 2011, a 400% increase from 2005.
Patents Rooted in the Constitution
Our nation's patent system is designed to encourage innovation and invention—and is rooted in the Constitution:
The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Patent Bills in Congress
Here’s a look at the two bills passed by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. However, it is still unclear when these bills will receive a floor vote in either chamber.
PATENT Act (S 1137)
Sponsor: Chuck Grassley (D-IA) “Shifts the legal burden back onto those who would abuse the patent system in order to make a quick buck at the expense of businesses that are playing by the rules,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would establish clear, uniform standards for pleading in patent infringement suits to give defendants real notice of the claims against them, and keep meritless lawsuits from clogging federal court dockets. It also increases transparency by requiring early disclosures about the patent-in-suit. The bill protect customers who are targeted for patent infringement based on a product they simply purchased from a manufacturer or off the shelf by allowing the stay of an infringement case against an end user of a product while the manufacturer of the product litigates the alleged infringement.” (Read bill summary or bill text)
From our Hill Sources: This bill has the support of the Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
Innovation Act (HR 9)
Sponsor: Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) “The bipartisan Innovation Act (HR 9), which is the same legislation that passed the House in 2013, builds on the reforms that were made in the America Invents Act and addresses certain abusive practices taking place in our courts,” according to the bill sponsors. “Requires plaintiffs to disclose who the owner of a patent is before litigation, so that it is clear who the real parties behind the litigation are. This will ensure that Patent Trolls cannot hide behind a web of shell companies to avoid accountability for bringing frivolous litigation. Requires plaintiffs to actually explain why they are suing a company in their court pleadings.” (Read bill text)
From our Hill Sources: While patent reform has bipartisan support among Members of Congress, important constituencies are divided. Technology companies support these bills. However, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are opposing the proposals. Meanwhile, research companies only support the Senate bill and not the House bill.
There are two other approaches to patent reform introduced in Congress:
Sponsor: Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) “Would make it harder for firms to be targeted with frivolous patent lawsuits, level the playing field between small inventors and large companies, and ensure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has the resources it needs to ensure patent quality,” according to bill sponsors. The STRONG Patents Act would strengthen our patent system and combat abuse by: Cracking down on abusive demand letters by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to target firms that abuse startups rather than invent anything; Ensuring that pleading standards for patent-infringement cases match the standards used for all other forms of civil actions, creating a significant barrier to frivolous lawsuits before any funds are spent on discovery. (Read bill summary or bill text)
Sponsor: Micheal Bergess (R-TX) “Establishes that it is an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the FTC Act to engage in a pattern or practice of sending demand letters that contain misrepresentations about patent rights and allows the FTC and State AGs to fine violators acting with reckless indifference. Requires that demand letters include key information, such as the person with the rights of the patent, parent companies, contact information, and information on how the recipient is infringing the patent. This will help businesses weed out legitimate from deceptive demand letters. Establishes a national standard for enforcement of abusive patent demand letters. Preserves all of the FTC’s existing powers and enforcement authority and current state laws dealing with fraudulent or deceptive practices.” (Source: House Energy and Commerce Committee) (Read bill text)
Another Hearing on Benghazi
The House Select Committee on Benghazi announced another hearing on the 2012 Benghazi attack on Oct. 22, 2015 during which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify. “Members of the Committee will question the former Secretary about Libya, Benghazi and her email arrangement consistent with the scope and jurisdiction of the Committee,” according to the Committee’s spokesperson. She previously testified before the House and Senate on Benghazi in January 2013.
Last week, Secretary Clinton turned over to the Department of Justice the personal home server she used to conduct official State Department business and several thumb drives reportedly containing emails with compartmented classified intelligence.
Background on the Committee
On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic extremists attacked the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, J. Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith.
On May 8, 2014, the House passed HRes 567, Providing for the Establishment of the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Committee is authorized and directed to conduct a full and complete investigation and study and issue a final report of its findings to the House.
Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal
A proposal in the House would award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Americans that died during the Benghazi attacks:
Congressional Gold Medal (HR 2567)
Sponsor: Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) To posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to each of Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, J. Christopher Stevens, and Sean Smith in recognition of their contributions to the Nation. (Read bill text)
— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —