- - Thursday, September 12, 2013

Issues that promote job growth require immediate attention

Congress is back in town after the August recess with an agenda full of tough issues to address before year’s end. The issue that should be highest on the list — the one most Americans want to see fixed more than anything else — is the U.S. economy. As we move toward the end of the year, we need to focus on boosting our continued economic recovery by removing legal blocks to entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation.

Two issues in particular need to be resolved to promote job creation and keep our economy moving in the right direction: patent litigation and immigration reform. Both of these areas are critical for allowing entrepreneurs to build successful businesses, increasing job creation and encouraging the kind of growth that has made the United States the innovation leader of the world.

Patent litigation reform has bipartisan support. For too long, so-called patent assertion entities have been making huge profits by buying up old patents and threatening other companies with lawsuits for supposedly violating those patents. More commonly known as “patent trolls,” these entities don’t actually produce anything themselves, they simply look for opportunities to sue other businesses that do. Patent trolls filed 62 percent of all patent lawsuits in 2012. The claims are often ridiculous, but more than 97 percent of companies settle out of court to avoid painful legal fees.

Whether companies choose to fight them or not, the trolls’ legal extortion is cripplingly expensive. In 2011 alone, trolls cost U.S. businesses $80 billion in wealth creation. That same year, Apple and Google spent more fighting patent suits than they spent on research and development. For small companies, the cost of fighting these suits means they can’t create jobs or grow their businesses. For startups, trolls just kill them by scaring investors and devouring an entrepreneur’s resources.

Patent trolls try to argue that they are defending innovators against big business, but the businesses hit hardest by their suits are small businesses. In fact, a 2011 study found that 90 percent of the businesses hit by patent trolls were small or midsized companies. Fortunately, Congress is considering several helpful bills, but congressional leaders must act or patent reform will fade into the background this fall. We need laws that protect legitimate intellectual property and allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to create jobs.

The second issue will be more difficult because it is more controversial. However, it is critical for our economy. Congress must knuckle down and finally reform our broken immigration system. Already, there are signs that the issue will get kicked down the road yet again. Even if Congress can’t agree on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill before the end of the year, they should commit to reforming the aspect we can all agree on: highly skilled immigration.

Immigrants account for a quarter of technology startups in this country. We are facing a serious shortage of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and highly skilled workers from other countries are critical to fill the gap. Our current system lets highly talented individuals from all over the world come to the United States to get advanced degrees, especially in needed technology-related fields. Yet, after they graduate, too many of them can’t stay here to innovate, build businesses and create jobs. We need to reform our visa program to welcome the best and the brightest from across the globe.

The Senate passed an immigration-reform bill in June, but it still faces strong opposition, especially among Republicans. This important reform must not be allowed to die in the House. We need our elected leaders to stop the partisan wrangling and fix our immigration system now, instead of continuing to procrastinate.

More than anything, our country needs laws that will allow for continued economic recovery while setting us on the path for growth well into the future. Innovative entrepreneurs must be allowed to build businesses and create jobs without wasting valuable resources on frivolous lawsuits. Talented workers from around the world who want to come to the United States to start a business, creating jobs and wealth, need to be welcomed and encouraged to do so. Our economy is finally looking up. It’s time for Congress to work together to pass reforms that will put us on the path to a bright future.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.