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U.S.: Senate Passes High-Tech Bills

Senate Passes High-Tech Bills

Satellite TV, Patent Laws, 'Cybersquatting' Are Addressed

By John Schwartz Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, November 20, 1999; Page E01

A passel of high-technology bills that flew through the Senate at Internet speed yesterday will give satellite-television viewers access to local channels, revamp the U.S. patent system and shut down "cybersquatters."


Another piece of legislation rolled into the spending bill is intended to limit "cybersquatting," the practice of poaching popular trademark names for Web sites (and names that sound like those trademarked names) in order to sell them to the rightful owners. Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) has called cybersquatting "online extortion," and said his bill will protect consumers.

That bill, too, has its detractors. Shari Steele of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a high-tech civil liberties group, said that since an international organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was formed with the help of the U.S. Commerce Department to resolve such disputes globally, "I don't think the Senate should be acting on this at all."

Steele said that the bill gives "way too much power to trademark owners to the detriment of people who have legal rights to have these domains--and there are real free speech implications of that."

The Senate passed a second Abraham-sponsored bill on electronic commerce intended to give electronic contracts and documents the same legal standing as documents signed using pen and ink. Since a different version of that bill has passed the House, the two laws will have to be reconciled in conference committee next year.

The Senate passed another bill to ban Internet gambling. Sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the bill makes exceptions for state-run lotteries and fantasy sports leagues. The matter will also have to be taken up when Congress returns after the holidays.