Regulation is the enemy of innovation. That was the clear conclusion of two non-presidential candidate senators and a high profile Silicon Valley personality at Tuesday’s Techonomy Policy conference in Washington.
Cory Booker, Democratic Senator from New Jersey; Deb Fischer, Republican Senator from Nebraska; and Sean Parker, whose tech engagements include Napster and Facebook, got together on stage to shoot some barbs at the regulators during a panel discussion on “Technology Innovation and American Progress.”
Booker proclaimed that America is in danger of losing its position as a leader in global technology. “We are now choking innovation rather than creating an environment where innovation can flourish.”
Parker noted that companies like Facebook and Napster were able to grow before there was much regulation in place. He added, “Technology leads in terms of transforming society and government and politics have to catch up.”
One of the specifics Parker pointed out was the FDA approval process. Unless that is changed he predicted that “20 years from now we’ll be going to China to buy drugs.”
The patent office is another part of the bureaucracy that stymies innovation. “We need a 21th century patent office,” Booker said, “a patent office that doesn’t restrict or price out innovation.” In response to a question from the audience, he also agreed that legislation is needed to stop patent trolls. Patent trolls are lawyers who represent holders of patents that are often old and obsolete, and then go after companies that they claim are violating that patent. Their cases usually range from vague to preposterous, but the companies they attack will often settle to make them go away.
“Have can you have a group of lawyers just going after innovation,” Booker said. “They don’t create anything.”
While technology is often seen as the cause of job loss, Parker sees it as a way to keep jobs and bring some of them back to the U.S. Automation potentially gives us the ability to compete in a global market in industries where jobs have been lost to foreign competition due to lower salary costs. “Tech can bring some of this back to the U.S. ,” he said, but “we have to fix the bureaucracy.”
Booker and Fischer pitched themselves as bipartisan senators who work together to get things done, brushing aside the narrative of a legislature gridlocked by partisanship. But they also offered a lot of reasons why things don’t happen in Washington. “If you really want to get something done with government don’t ask for a government study,” Fischer counselled.
As an example of how the Senate isn’t keeping pace, Booker noted that it still doesn’t even use cloud technology.
Fischer summed it up: “Technology moves fast, government moves slow.” No surprise there.