U.S. commerce secretary needs congress' help to let skilled people in and kick patent trolls out

8 January 2014 by Steve Blum

Steve Jobs called it right.

Reforming U.S. visa rules, particularly for highly educated employees, and patent troll protection are major concerns for technology companies. Both of those policy initiatives are priorities for the Obama administration, but are being left in the hands of congress for now, according U.S. commerce secretary Penni Pritzker.

“I think there’s a window in the first half of this year to get immigration reform done”, she said.

She was interviewed on stage at CES this morning by Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro, who suggested that passing the changes that republicans and democrats agree on, such as fewer visa restrictions for highly skilled workers, is a better approach. He reminded her that Steve Jobs presciently warned president Obama that if he insisted on bundling high tech work visas with every other immigration issue into a single package, “then it won’t happen”.

A bill to make it harder for companies to collect patents purely for purpose of suing other companies has moved from the house to the senate. “We’re more than hopeful, it’s something we’re very much in favor of”, Pritzker said. “We came out very strongly against the kind of patent troll litigation that’s going on”. In the meantime, “one of the things we can do is make sure the patents we give out are good and defendable patents”.

That effort includes bringing the patent office physically closer to innovators. The first two satellite patents offices opened in Silicon Valley and Denver. “The goal is to be closer to our customers, and you are our customers”, Pritzker concluded.