Motorola's pugnacious Ed Zander chosen to lead US high-tech industry in important policy battles

Some types of innovation could be made illegal if tech industry doesn't take on older industries with stronger political connections.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, is the new chairman of the Technology CEO Council--a Washington D.C. lobbying group consisting of the top echelons of the US tech industry.

Take a look:  Founded in 1989, its members include Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett-Packard;  Joseph McGrath, CEO of Unisys; William Nuti, CEO of NCR;  Paul Otellini, CEO, Intel; Samuel Palmisano, CEO of IBM; Kevin Rollins, CEO of Dell;  Michael Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials; and, Joseph Tucci, CEO of EMC.

Mr Zander takes over from Craig Barratt, chairman of Intel, in the job since October 2003.

The tech industry could certainly do with a pugnacious character such as Mr Zander. I'm not saying Mr Barratt isn't one, but Mr Zander has that East Coast way about him--and he's probably been in more bar fights I would think.

And the tech industry certainly needs to get into a few bar fights over in Washington D.C. because otherwise, it might soon become illegal to do anything innovative. The industries being disrupted by digital technologies are fighting back with their best weopon: the law.

For example, take a look at the Digital Millennium Act, it gives content owners such as the recording industry, substantial control over innovation in what types of devices/software/technology can be developed.

It is illegal to develop a technology that can be used to steal protected content. A very broad definition, and broad definitions are trouble.

The recording industry knows a thing or two about working its influence. And that's how it managed to influence the legislators in its favor. The US tech industry is clueless (mostly.)

Yes, the American Electronics Association has been lobbying on the Hill for decades, and companies such as Texas Instruments, and Intel, have their lobbyists. But its a tough slog, as they often tell me.

Waking up.

Now, more tech companies in Silicon Valley are waking up to the fact that you have to be involved in Washington politics otherwise life gets very difficult very quickly.

Earlier this year I spoke with Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite and now heading JotSpot. Mr Kraus is keenly aware of the political and legislative issues affecting innovation.

More recently, I've spoken with Network Appliance when their top executives were in Washington D.C. And I know other tech companies, such as VeriSign, are also becoming more active in Washington life.

And new types of public relations companies are emerging to work with the tech companies on policy issues, such as 463 Communications, co-founded by Sean Garrett and with Tim Dyson as chairman. Mr Dyson heads Europe's largest publicly traded public relations company Next Fifteen, which owns San Francisco based PR companies Bite, Text 100, and Outcast. Their clients are some of the largest Silicon Valley companies, such as Apple Computer and Sun Microsystems.

The earlier the tech companies start getting involved in politics, the better. Because politics is all about relationships and it takes time to establish relationships.

Is it a good thing to have more of a tech industry voice in our government? Yes, of course, because the more informed voices we have when it comes to tech related policy the better.

And the best way to influence the legislators is with a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a pitch from one of the best salesmen in the tech industry. The second best way is with a political donation, imho.

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