As chief intellectual property counsel at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Aaron Cooper often finds himself in the center of the latest political discord in the digital world. Cooper, who joined the committee in 2006, is a top adviser to Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and spends his days pulling warring factions together on key legislation involving patent and copyright protection.
Case in point: the America Invents Act, the most comprehensive patent reform bill in 60 years, which President Barack Obama signed on September 16. The legislation, co-authored by Leahy and House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), changes the patent process from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system. It also permits the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to access funds generated by its own fees in excess of its fiscal year appropriations from Congress.
Throughout the six years the bill languished on Capitol Hill, Cooper said, he had to negotiate with new industries all the time. “One thing we learned over the first couple Congresses of working on it, there are always more industries that would express interest in parts of the bill,” he said. “Most of my day was taken up hearing from different industry sectors.”
Less successful for Cooper was legislation designed to curb the sale of counterfeit goods. He worked with Leahy on the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act — commonly called the Protect IP Act. This year, the bill, and Smith’s House companion legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, were shelved after Internet companies like Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. staged a mass protest likening the legislation to censorship.
Michael O’Leary, senior executive vice president of global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, which supported Leahy’s bill, said the legislation’s failure had little to do with Cooper’s acumen.
“He’s very thoughtful,” O’Leary said of Cooper. “He does his homework. He manages all the different variables you have to manage, including serving the chairman, making sure the rest of the committee feels they have the opportunity to talk. He also manages all the various interest groups, like us, and people who don’t agree with us.”
Cooper predicted that some issues outlined in the bill ultimately could be addressed through business decisions or in the courts, some of which have been shutting down counterfeit websites. “Sometimes,” he said, “the courts and the private sector make enough advancements based on a conversation that Congress gets going so that a lot of problems get taken care of.” — Amanda Bronstad