“Issa’s past engagement with intellectual property and patent matters has led to many questions regarding his views on legitimate forms of protecting IP rights.”
Following an incredibly contentious vote for Speaker of the House, it has taken some time for Congressional subcommittees to take shape. However, at least the Republican membership of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet has taken shape in recent days, featuring a couple of well-known politicians whose efforts on patent system reforms have represented the interests of either end of the world of IP system stakeholders. The House IP Subcommittee during the 118th Congress also contains several incoming Representatives, including a few that have had some engagement with IP matters prior to joining the subcommittee.
House IP Subcommittee Chair Darrell Issa (CA-48)
Born November 1, 1953, Congressman Darrell Issa represents California’s 48th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time in Congress, Issa’s voice has been influential in the world of patent law, thanks in large part to his prior credentials as an entrepreneur and inventor. During the 1990s, Issa served as CEO of Directed Electronics, a company which he co-founded in 1982 and helped to build into the United States’ largest vehicle anti-theft and auto security device company. Issa has been named as an inventor on 37 patents and the biography on his official House website notes that “Issa has been vigilant about protecting intellectual property rights.”
In the days leading up to the announcement that Rep. Issa would serve as the Chair of the House IP Subcommittee, inventor advocates raised concerns regarding litigation loopholes created by past patent reforms for which Issa advocated. He has also been criticized for squelching patent law debate in favor of a pro-Big Tech agenda. Indeed, Issa’s past engagement with intellectual property and patent matters has led to many questions regarding his views on legitimate forms of protecting IP rights. At the same time that Rep. Issa has drawn a definition of the pejorative term “patent troll” that would include his own patent litigation activities, a look into past campaign contributors has shown a strong link between Issa and the efficient infringement lobby. In July 2017, Rep. Issa drew the ire of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), for making a direct personal attack on U.S. District Judge J. Rodney Gilstrap of the Eastern District of Texas during a House IP Subcommittee hearing.
Thomas Massie (KY-04)
Born January 13, 1971, Congressman Thomas Massie has represented the 4th District of Kentucky since being elected into the House of Representatives in 2012. The biography page on Massie’s official House website notes that the Congressman founded a company called SensAble Technologies following his graduation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a master’s in mechanical engineering. SensAble was assigned 29 patents covering systems for haptic feedback when interacting with digital systems and the technology is used to create intricate designs for jewelry, dental prosthetics and reconstructive implants.
As discouraged as many independent inventors must be to see Issa serving as House IP Subcommittee Chair, they appear to have a much better ally with Rep. Massie on the subcommittee. Massie has gained a reputation as an inventors’ advocate who has a strong understanding of the patent right’s function as a means to attract investment for startups who need capital to scale up their operations and reach more consumers. In June 2018, and then again in November 2021, Massie introduced the Restoring America’s Leadership in Innovation Act (RALIA), which would abrogate the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International and repeal the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). While RALIA seems to have once again lost momentum quickly after its introduction into Congress, Massie has been openly critical of the PTAB’s impacts on R&D investment and U.S. small businesses in past House IP Subcommittee hearings.
Scott Fitzgerald (WI-05)
Born November 16, 1963, Congressman Scott L. Fitzgerald took over representation of the 5th District of Wisconsin in 2021, replacing long-time Republican incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner, who had represented that district in Congress since 1979. Fitzgerald was the owner-publisher of a Juneau, WI-area newspaper during the 1990s, retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 2009 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and served in the Wisconsin Senate from 1995 to 2021, including an eight-year stint as majority leader of the state senate.
In May 2021, Rep. Fitzgerald was among several signatories on a letter addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai urging the Biden Administration to oppose the proposed waiver to international IP obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPS Agreement) related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Last September, Fitzgerald called on several federal agencies to investigate claims that a Chinese entity had stolen IP from Germantown, WI-based electronic controls manufacturer Raffel Systems. Last February, Fitzgerald had appeared on a Hudson Institute panel regarding national security concerns posed by Chinese entities purchasing U.S. tech companies.
Cliff Bentz (OR-02)
Born January 12, 1952, Congressman Cliff Bentz is another recent addition to the House of Representatives, joining the 117th Congress in 2021 following a career in state politics. Appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2008, Bentz spent 10 years in the House prior to a two-year term in the Oregon Senate. Like Fitzgerald, Bentz is a signatory to the May 2021 letter to USTR Tai opposing the COVID-19 waiver. Further, Bentz and Fitzgerald are among a few dozen House co-sponsors to the Countering Communist China Act, which would establish visa and property sanctions against individuals engaging in patterns of significant IP infringement.
Lance Gooden (TX-05)
Born December 1, 1982, Congressman Lance Gooden has represented the 5th District of Texas, which includes much of the eastern portion of Dallas, since 2019. Spending his early career as an insurance broker, Gooden spent most of the 2010s in the Texas House of Representatives. While not a signatory to the May 2021 letter to USTR Tai, Gooden is a co-sponsor to Rep. Massie’s RALIA bill. Gooden is also a co-sponsor to the Counter Communist China Act.
Ben Cline (VA-06)
Born February 29, 1972, Congressman Ben Cline joined the House of Representatives in 2019, assuming the 6th District of Virginia office previously held by long-time incumbent Bob Goodlatte. Prior to joining the U.S. House, Cline worked in marketing for rural Internet and technology businesses and spent 16 years in the Virginia House of Delegates. Cline is a co-sponsor to the Counter Communist China Act.
Kevin Kiley (CA-03)
Born January 30, 1985, Congressman Kevin Kiley is part of the 118th Congress’ freshman class, having won the election for the newly redrawn 3rd District of California after serving in the California State Assembly from 2016 to 2022. Prior to his time in the state assembly, Kiley worked at the law firm Irell & Manella where he helped to prepare a patent infringement case filed by T-Mobile against Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Nathaniel Moran (TX-01)
Born September 23, 1974, Congressman Nathaniel Moran is another first-term member of the House of Representatives, replacing outgoing Rep. Louis Gohmert in the 1st District of Texas. The owner of a law firm and a staffing company, both in East Texas, Moran also served as the County Judge of Smith County from 2016 to 2022. While not an inventor himself, Moran was involved with Smith County’s decision in 2019 to retain a private law firm for handling IP licensing matters for proprietary software developed by Smith County staff enabling electronic submissions of bail bond applications.
Laurel Lee (FL-15)
Born March 26, 1974, Congresswoman Laurel Lee was first elected to the House of Representatives last November to represent the 15th District of Florida after serving a full six-year term on Florida’s Hillsborough County Circuit Court and a short stint as Florida’s Secretary of State. Campaign statements made by Lee indicate her focus on restoring the Keystone Pipeline energy project and improving election cybersecurity.
Russell Fry (SC-07)
Born January 31, 1985, Congressman Russell Fry, who began his representation of the 7th District of South Carolina this year, completes the Republican membership of the House IP Subcommittee. Fry spent seven years in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2015 to 2022, where he also served as Chief Majority Whip and advanced legislation supporting Second Amendment rights, pro-life concerns, religious liberties and election reforms