Most Americans Agree on Patent Trolls and Keystone. Why Doesn't Government Act? | Commentary

Two critical economic issues that could easily be resolved through legislation — patent litigation and energy efficiency and supply — are needlessly damaging our nation. Anti-oil activists (as well as the Hollywood stars they attract) and patent trolls — lawyers who produce no economic value, yet extort billions from legitimate U.S. businesses — are displaying their uncanny ability to halt rational government action. Whether by drumming up star-studded support or papering Washington with cold hard cash, these special interest groups are persuading government leaders to kowtow to vocal minorities, rather than listen to the majority of voters and enact laws to help our nation.

In one case, patent trolls and trial lawyers continue to stifle patent litigation reform efforts, even though this legislation has already passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. The Senate bill is now stalled before the Judiciary Committee — thanks to the lobbying efforts of trial lawyers and others who regularly profit from patent abuse — and draining the U.S. economy of $1.5 billion every week senators fail to act. Patent litigation reform is supported not just by the majority of the American people, but the Obama administration as well. Retailers, hotel owners and restaurateurs are among the many businesses large and small that support this common-sense reform.

Thousands of American businesses have been the victims of legalized extortion by lawyers who bought old, ambiguous patents. These lawyers, who in most cases don’t actually produce anything related to the patents, send threatening letters to legitimate businesses employing real people. The businesses must then either hire expensive lawyers to defend themselves or simply fork over the extortion payment demanded. Legislation that passed the House in December would end the worst of these practices, yet the Democrat-controlled Senate is unwilling to move forward on it amid concerns that the fee-shifting provisions included in the bill will alienate the trial lawyers who support them.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, which could have created thousands of jobs, reduced pollution, saved taxpayers billions of dollars, and which had the support of more than 270 organizations, succumbed to political division in the Senate and the Obama administration’s continued indecision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Keystone is a long-delayed project that will carry oil for processing from Canada through the United States via 875 miles of pipe. While the project awaits U.S. government approval, hundreds of trucks and rail cars carry oil from Canada to the U.S. every day, potentially doing serious damage to the environment and exposing drivers and train operators to unnecessary risks. Numerous explosions have occurred along transit lines, but our government refuses to move forward on the much safer and more environmentally-sound pipeline.

By refusing to approve Keystone, the Obama administration is acquiescing to a small band of activists who have made the pipeline a symbol of their stand against fossil fuels. They claim the pipeline is an environmental threat that must be stopped at all costs, despite government analysis to the contrary. Worse, the White House is listening to the activists, even though they are a decided minority, but not the experts or the voters.

Americans overwhelmingly support the Keystone pipeline. Recent polling found 86 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents support building the pipeline. Major newspapers — including The Washington Post — support it, as do labor unions. The long-awaited State Department report on the pipeline found that it would do little environmental harm. In fact, there’s more environmental damage caused by cow flatulence than by the oil that will be shipped by the pipeline. More, we have greatly hurt our relations with our closest neighbor and ally, Canada, through our continued refusal to approve the building of this needed pipeline.

We are faced with two national problems that have relatively easy solutions. Yet our government’s paralysis continues to hurt our nation and our economy. It is time for real leaders to stand up. Leaders solve problems. They don’t let those with extremist views and few facts to back them up stop action on issues that affect jobs and our economy.

Senate Democrats, please club the trolls. President Barack Obama, please approve the pipeline. Congress, please pass the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill. Government leaders, please stand up and do the jobs you were appointed to do: Lead our nation based on the facts. Respond to the needs of the American people, not the requests of the politically connected.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.

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