A Broken Immigration System and Patent Trolls are Stifling Tech Innovation

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An industry leader says Congress must address urgent policy issues.

Innovative ideas are the lifeblood of the American Dream, the engine that drives our nation’s economy. As such, we must do everything we can to empower innovators by attracting top talent and creating fertile and supportive environments for businesses to grow.

The tech industry has a critical role to play, by giving startups opportunities to share their ideas and learn from more established companies through events like the International Consumer Electronics Show. But in 2014, Congress has the opportunity to pave the way for future startup success stories by addressing two urgent innovation policy challenges: fixing an immigration system that lures away the best and brightest from our shores, and effectively allowing entrepreneurs to be squashed by patent trolls.

Our lawmakers must get serious about immigration reform this year. Many brilliant international minds come to the United States to study, but aren’t allowed to stay and start businesses here after they graduate. Despite having a strong proposal on the table, our policy makers passed the buck in 2013. This has to change. We need strategic immigration reform that allows us to retain top talent here in the U.S.

Once startups get off the ground, they must be assured that U.S. business policies are friendly and fair. Our patent system is totally misguided and in need of reform. Every year, patent trolls bilk U.S. businesses out of billions of dollars in legal fees and unnecessary payments, money that could be spent on research and development and hiring new employees. In December, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect our innovators from frivolous lawsuits filed by patent trolls. Now, it’s up to the Senate to follow suit by approving similar legislation to save small businesses and encourage innovation.

Small businesses with innovative ideas can completely disrupt markets, not only by creating new jobs and growing the economy, but also by launching entirely new industries. Policy reform will create a more nurturing environment, but that’s only the first step. It’s also critical that innovators and small business owners have the right platform to showcase their ideas, find investors and create the partnerships that drive growth.

This week at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, among the thousands of entrepreneurs showcasing the next generations of consumer technology, we carved out a special zone for more than 200 startups. Eureka Park has proven repeatedly that small businesses have the potential to become major business forces, provided they get the right start. Among the CES startup success stories:

  • Samba TV (formerly Flingo), which first exhibited at the 2013 CES, creates interactive apps for televisions and tablets that recognize what’s on screen to create tailored advertising for viewers, improving the experience for TV-watchers, broadcasters and advertisers. Flingo rebranded in September 2013 as Samba after signing several deals with set-top makers, advertisers and content publishers and broadcasters.
  • Smart Diet Scale, a scale that wirelessly transmits and tracks nutritional information about your food to your smartphone, exhibited in Eureka Park last year. Through the show, the company secured funding and is now working on bringing a finished product to market.
  • HAPIfork was one of the most buzzed about products at the 2013 CES. The device monitors how fast you’re eating and vibrates when you need to slow down, which helps with digestion and weight control. HAPIlabs is back at the 2014 CES, having announced an exclusive partnership with Brookstone in October to sell the HAPIfork.

Small businesses need both the support of good policies that give them the space to innovate and launch their brand, and the right platforms to make business connections and share ground-breaking ideas. It’s almost impossible to predict which of today’s entrepreneurs will become the next major disruptive force in our economy. But it is abundantly clear that policy makers and industry leaders need to smooth the way for small businesses to thrive.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, "Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses(William Morrow, 2013) and "The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream(Beaufort Books, 2011). His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.

(Image via kentoh/Shutterstock.com)

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