Legal Issues in the Tech Industry

The tech industry faces many unique legal challenges these days. New laws regarding the internet and intellectual property are being passed at an alarming rate, and it is difficult to keep track of all the changes. Here is a summary of recent laws and legal cases that affect many tech companies:

  • Patent law – an increasing number of frivolous patents are being awarded for obvious “innovations” in the tech industry. In particular, many software patents cover things as simple and obvious as making a clickable link on a website, making a purchase on an online store, or making an in-app purchase via a smartphone. Several companies have been started solely to hold these patents and sue legitimate businesses that use the patented features. But it’s not just these so-called “patent trolls” who misuse patents. Even the largest tech companies in the world have sued each other for violating their patents. For example, shortly before Facebook went public, Yahoo sued over patent violations in a move that was widely seen as a shakedown to get some pre-IPO stock.
  • Copyright law – currently the DMCA is prevailing law governing online copyright practices. One of the most important features of the DMCA is its “safe harbor” provision that protects service providers from liability from material posted by their users. Recently proposed legislation such as SOPA has threatened that protection, leading to concerns that sites such as Reddit would have criminal liability for content that their millions of users post.
  • Immigration law – while this may not seem like an obvious concern of tech firms, many software companies such as Microsoft rely on foreign workers who come to the USA via an H1B visa, which is provided for workers whose skills are in high demand. The number of H1B visas issued every year has been a topic of debate between the companies who hire these workers and politicians who wish to limit the number of immigrants coming to the country.