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Senate Examines Wireless Industry and Patent Reform Gets Its Day (Twice!) in SCOTUS

Welcome to National Journal's Tech Edge, a morning tipsheet with the news you need in technology policy, featuring a round-up of the best coverage and exclusive tips for the day ahead. Got this by forward? Sign up at

By Alex Brown (@AlexBrownNJ), Laura Ryan (@NJLJRyan), Brendan Sasso (@BrendanSasso), and Dustin Volz (@dnvolz)


TODAY IN ONE PARAGRAPH: The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for two cases touching on one of patent litigation's trickiest issues: fee shifting. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on competition in the wireless market at 10 a.m. Executives from T-Mobile, Verizon, and C Spire are expected to testify, in addition to representatives from public interest groups. The hearing will likely cover the upcoming spectrum auctions and possibly cell-phone unlocking legislation and the floated T-Mobile-Sprint merger.


FEE SHIFTING GETS DOUBLE SCOTUS REVIEW: The Supreme Court will weigh two cases (Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness and Highmark v. Allcare Health Management Systems) that look at a dusty section of the 1952 Patent Act, one of the more closely watched areas for legislative reform in the patent system. Octane will review the troublesome "exceptional cases" standard for awarding fees to the winner in a patent infringement case, while Highmark deals with what standard the federal circuit should deploy when reviewing district court decisions of the statute.

The cases are a bit in the patent-troll weeds, but their rulings are potentially significant, especially because congressional aides have intoned that lawmakers in the Senate Judiciary Committee, seeking guidance from just about everywhere on patent reform, are paying close attention to how the arguments shake out. Octane gets underway first beginning at 10 a.m., with Highmark to follow immediately after at 11.


HOUSE APPROVES CELL-PHONE UNLOCKING: The House voted 295 to 114 (two-thirds was needed) to approve House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's bill to legalize cell-phone unlocking. The supporters had to override last minute opposition organized by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo. The Silicon Valley Democrats criticized Goodlatte for adding a provision that would keep the ban on bulk unlocking. The provision has the support of CTIA, the lobbying group for cell carriers. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has introduced his own unlocking bill, but an aide said he won't necessarily support the House language on bulk unlocking.

OBAMA PRESENTED WITH FOUR OPTIONS TO REFORM NSA"Administration lawyers have presented the White House with four options for restructuring the National Security Agency's phone-surveillance program, from ditching the controversial collection altogether to running it through the telephone companies, according to officials familiar with the discussions."

"None of the three options for relocating the data have gained universal favor. But failure to agree on one of them would leave only the option of abolishing the program, which would be a setback for intelligence agencies and other backers of the surveillance effort. Of the three options for relocating the data, two of them—with phone companies or another government agency—appear most technically possible." (Gorman/Barrett, WSJ)

HOUSE PASSES IT PROCUREMENT BILL: By voice vote, the lower chamber passed a modified version of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the bill that wants to fix the way the government buys technology and, some say, could have helped avoid the Obamacare site trainwreck. It's mostly the same bill that was passed by the House last June (wonks wanting a line-by-line listing of changes can find them here, and section analysis can get a glimpse here) that wound up getting stripped from the Senate's defense reauthorization bill.


The big differences in the new bill are the addition of the Defense Department to agencies whose CIOs would be granted more power, and the creation of a pilot program (instead of a permanent effort) to examine IT procurement. Despite those edits, it remains to be seen where the backers hope to drum up enough momentum in the Senate.

GOOGLE FEARS FCC POWER: In closed-door meetings with regulators and Capitol Hill staff, Google's lawyers have said they're worried how the FCC may use its newfound powers to regulate the Internet . (Sasso, NJ)

GOP, WALDEN HOPE TO ERADICATE FCC NEWSROOM STUDY: House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden announced Tuesday that the subcommittee will hold a hearing on the FCC's newsroom study in the near future, and will introduce legislation to "eradicate" the controversial study altogether. (Ryan, NJ)

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HOUSE BILL WOULD BOOST SONGWRITER PAYMENTS: House legislation was introduced Wednesday that wants to change how songwriter and publishers' royalty rates are calculated by federal rate courts. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins's bill aims to rejigger the Copyright Act to allow rate courts to consider fair market value when setting rates, or compare rates paid to songwriters with rates paid to performers, an act that is currently prohibited. The bill is welcomed by songwriters and publishers, but could be bad news for radio stations and digital streaming services.

BITCOIN CRASH WORRIES CARPER: Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the crash of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange "disturbing."

"U.S. policymakers and regulators can and should learn from this incident to protect consumers," he said in a statement, adding that there should be "clear rules of the road" for digital currencies. "Our Committee will continue to work closely with relevant U.S. government entities to steer the boat away from nefarious actors - and it's up to legitimate, law abiding industry partners to row the boat into law abiding waters."


ONLINE SALES TAX HEARING: The House Judiciary Committee will hold an online sales tax hearing on March 4. The legislation passed the Senate last year, but faces longer odds in the House. Chairman Bob Goodlatte has said he may support legislation if it can meet a certain set of principles.

CONGRESS LOOKS AT SATELLITE TV LAW: The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee have begun the process of reviewing STELA, a satellite TV law that is set to expire at the end of the year. The senators (Rockefeller, Thune, Pryor and Wicker) sent a letter on Tuesday to stakeholders–including satellite TV providers, broadcasters, cable companies, think tanks, and public interest groups–asking for input on whether Congress should extend or revise the law. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology, chaired by Greg Walden, has slotted March 5 for its own review of the law.

FACIAL RECOGNITION TALKS WON'T TOUCH ON GOVERNMENT USE: The Commerce Department's series of privacy talks will not focus on the government's use of the technology, according to agency officials. (Kate Tummarello, The Hill)

DEPT. OF EDUCATION OFFERS GUIDANCE ON STUDENT PRIVACY: Student digital privacy has been dogging the $8 billion industry, parents, and educators for the past year, but the DOE finally weighed in Tuesday. The education regulator introduced a carefully-worded set of requirements and recommended practices to buttress protection of sensitive student data. (Natasha Singer, NYT)

CARDS ROBBED FROM TARGET FACE REPLACEMENT BACKLOG: "...while the crooks responsible for monetizing the Target breach seem to have had little trouble counterfeiting stolen cards, the process by which banks obtain legitimate replacement cards for their customers is not always quite so speedy." (Brian Krebs)

BITCOIN MAY BE IN TROUBLE, BUT DEVOTEES DON'T WANT A BAILOUT: Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox went offline Monday night, losing about $350 million in bitcoins. But the people who lost their fortunes say they don't want a bailout. (Matt Berman, NJ)

GOOGLE LOBBIES AGAINST DRIVING WITH GLASS RESTRICTIONS: Eight states are considering regulation that limit wearing Google Glass while on the road, but the company is fighting back in at least three states, believing such measures are unnecessary. (Dan Levine, Reuters)

FCC LAUNCHES iPHONE SPEED TEST APP: Similar to the Android app out from the agency last November, the iPhone app measures cell-phone network speeds.

THIS BRITISH COMPANY WANTS TO CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS: What3words wants to help you find locations with three-word combinations rather than addresses or GPS coordinates. (Brown, NJ)

REDDIT WANTS TO SAVE JOURNALISM: A new live-reporting feature (in beta mode) allows users to create blogs on breaking news events, a maneuver being billed as a boon to "open-source journalism." (Mathew Ingram, GigaOm)

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