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Top Agenda Item In the "Pivot to Jobs" Will Be a Boon For Big Business

August 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

First up in the big pivot to jobs that’s going to sweep Washington when Congress comes back from August recess is H.R.1249, the “America Invents Act.” The bill isn’t exactly a response to the current unemployment crisis; it’s designed to streamline the U.S. patent system, and it’s been sitting around in Congress in various forms since 2005. Supporters of the bill even admit that job creation would be a “happy byproduct,” not the main focus.

As I described on Friday, Congress is incapable of passing real jobs legislation. They’re too focused on winning the 2012 elections, and it’s getting in the way of working together in good-faith on stuff that’s designed to fix the problems they all say they want to fix (e.g. jobs, deficits). In the current environment, jobs as a byproduct is about the best we can expect. And the only reason Congress might be able to conjure up the will to pass this bill is because it’s been written to win the support of two of the biggest industries for campaign contributions — pharmaceuticals and Wall Street.

Zach Carter at Huffington Post recently published a great article describing all the twists and turns of the lobbying battle that has shaped the patent bill. The bill looks like “a scorecard tallying points for powerful corporations,” he writes, adding that “left out of the tally is the public.” The article is long, but if you want the inside scoop on just how much special-interest money and lobbying it takes for Congress to pass something that may have a secondary effect of creating jobs, read the whole thing.

Here’s a small excerpt about a little loophole that Wall Street won in the dealings:

Wall Street has been preoccupied by last year’s financial reform bill and this year’s scuffle over debit card swipe fees. But the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the country’s biggest banks, fought hard for Section 18, and Pelosi’s opposition reflected a sudden division within the Democratic Party over two specific patents that have already cost the banking industry at least $400 million. The turmoil over those patents consumed weeks of the House calendar behind the scenes, while the unemployment rate continued to rise.

Section 18 would create a new process at the Patent and Trademark Office that could invalidate existing “business method” patents — but only for “financial services” issues. Other patents would be immune to the new review process.

[…]

The Section 18 language to swat away pesky business-method patents — for banks — was dropped into the Senate version of the bill by prolific Wall Street fundraiser and third-ranking Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), who declined to comment.

“This [is] the sort of gift to major corporations that is the hallmark of bad legislation,” says Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative think tank that works extensively on intellectual property issues. “Any time you’re singling out a particular industry, that’s a red flag. This is a case of the banks using their raw political clout.”

Schumer’s move was the latest of several efforts from the too-big-to-fail crowd to overturn two patents on check processing owned by a company called DataTreasury, which has leveraged huge settlements from megabanks, including JPMorgan Chase, and remains embroiled in legal battles with others.

“This is something that’s being pushed by big banks so they can basically railroad a couple of guys who they don’t want to pay licensing fees on anymore,” says an aide to a Senate Democrat who voted against the patent bill.

For more information on the money that interests groups involved in the patent bill debate have been spending on Congress this year, see our money trail page, featuring data from Maplight.org and OpenSecrets. Note that the money totals on that page are for the 2010 cycle only.

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