Software Execs Send Legislative Wish List to Hill

A gathering of chief technology officers from the country's leading software companies is urging Congress to fully fund $3.26 billion in initiatives that industry sees as critical in the president's fiscal 2009 budget.

"In light of rising global economic competition and mixed signals in the domestic economy, we urge you to support several pending measures to strengthen America's high-tech industry," CTOs of the Business Software Alliance wrote in a March 4 letter to Senate leaders in both parties.

In addition to funding programs including the Patent and Trademark Office and the Homeland Security Department's National Cyber Security Division, the CTOs also called for passage of patent reform legislation and information technology security bills.

They followed up the letter with visits to administration and congressional leaders in both houses during BSA's fifth CTO Forum in Washington this week. The gathering included CTOs from Adobe, Apple, Bentley, Computer Associates, EMC, McAfee, Microsoft, Sybase and Symantec.

"It is a chance to expose the technology world and Congress to each other," said Kevin Richards, manager of federal government relations at Symantec. Legislators too often are not familiar with the issues that are critical to the $20 billion-a-year software industry, and industry leaders do not understand the legislative progress, he said.

One issue that the CTOs were briefed on during their visits was the president's broad cyber initiative, a proposed $30 billion program over seven years, for which $7.6 billion has been requested for 2009.

"We're enthusiastic about it," although details were scarce, Richards said. "They were still talking in generalities and didn't go much into specifics."

Top 2009 funding priorities for the CTOs are: $2.1 billion to fund PTO to improve patent quality and reduce the time needed to examine applications. Faster, more thorough investigations would provide better protection to both patent holders and industry as a whole, Richards said. $430 million to fund the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration. $293.5 million for the National Cyber Security Division for further deployment of the EINSTEIN system on federal networks. $438 million to fund increased FBI IT security and program enhancements. In addition to fully funding PTO, the CTOs also would like to see the patent laws reformed. The last major revision of U.S. patent law was in the 1950s, and they complain that outdated laws allow holders of questionable patents to abuse them by filing infringement lawsuits against companies using the technology. This inhibits both the development and commercialization of new technology, they say, and they urged action on the Patent Reform Act, which has been passed by the Judiciary Committee.

They also urged House passage of the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, which was passed by the Senate in November. It would amend the U.S. Code to enable increased federal prosecution of identity theft. Data security and data breach laws also are critical, they said.

"Our nation needs a national framework that ensures both an appropriate level of security of the personal data of American consumers, and a clear and uniform system of notification of consumers if their data has been compromised," they wrote in their letter.

Richards said the odds of passage look good for the Patent Reform Act, even with election year distractions. He said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has put the bill on the Senate calendar in the number two or three position for action during the eight-week session following Congress's Easter break. After that, any action probably would have to wait until late fall, he said.

Whatever happens in this fall's elections, there will be a new administration and a new Congress in office next year. Richards said BSA would be comfortable with any of the leading contenders for president, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) or Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Trade group representatives have been working with all three campaigns to educate them on IT issues and develop policies.

"We feel good about the three remaining candidates," he said. "I don't think there will be a steep learning curve for any of them."

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (