Tech Policy Summit: Silicon Valley missing in action

Summary:Earlier this week I attended the Tech Policy Summit in San Jose at the Dolce Hayes Mansion, a southern tip of Silicon Valley. Speakers included top government officials, such as Jon Dudas, director of the U.

Earlier this week I attended the Tech Policy Summit in San Jose at the Dolce Hayes Mansion, a southern tip of Silicon Valley. Speakers included top government officials, such as Jon Dudas, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Greg Garcia, the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity czar; Congressman Howard Berman (D-Ca), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property; and Deborah Platt Majoras, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Silicon Valley was represented by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, VeriSign CEO Stratton Sclavos, Sybase CEO John Chen and other high tech executives.

Jon Dudas, USPTO; Deborah Platt Majoras, FTC; and Congressman Howard Berman speaking at the Tech Policy Summit

In addition, policy wonks from HP, SAP, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Google, Cisco, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Fox and other companies spoke, as well as academics and trade association executives from the Information Technology of America and and the Recording Industry Association of America. Even someone from the European Commission was present, along with a handful of Web 2.0 CEOs and some well-known journalists leading some of the discussion.

You would think that such a gathering of personage would be incredibly compelling, a kind of mini Silicon Valley Davos. Unfortunately, the only people who showed up were the speakers, many of whom didn't stay long, and a few journalists and interested parties. 

Only a few of the panels had some back and forth (such as Walt Mossberg pressing AT&T's James Cicconi on why his company won't allow any phone to work on its network) and the sparse audience wasn't left their gunpowder at home.  

Fellow attendees Tom Foremski and Mike Masnick came to the same conclusion. Mike points out in his blog post

This clearly was not a Silicon Valley crowd. Most of the people were from DC. In side conversations, I heard a few people even complain that there was simply no reason to have this event in Silicon Valley -- and that they should have just held it in Washington DC. I pointed out to one person that I thought the idea was to bring the policy folks to the techies so that tech world could be a little more in touch with policy issues and she laughed and asked me to point out a single tech person in the room. 

Tom concludes in his blog post:

...that doesn't explain why there weren't lots of Silicon Valley execs at the two day conference. Or rather, it shows that Silicon Valley's traditional lack of interest in politics continues, despite numerous reasons why such ignorance can be damaging.

I learned a good deal about patents at the conference from my conversation with USPTO Director Dudas and met several informed people between sessions. The event was invitation only, but the opportunity for Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. to meet in the tech holy land and debate tech policy issues in a town hall setting was missed.

It certainly didn't excite the blogosphere, but then tech policy isn't as fashionable as social networking. But, tech policy is crucial to making sure that we don't end up with an Internet that doesn't allow fashions like social networking to reach their potential, whatever that may be. Next time, the Tech Policy Summit should open up the gates and have the debate in front of thousands rather than a few dozen people with a stake in the outcome.

Topics: Hardware

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