What Would a Trump Presidency Mean for Technology and Innovation?

Though there is often the unrealistic expectation that a new administration will change all that ails industry or government, American voters and companies should come to the table with measured expectations.

by / July 22, 2016
Donald Trump speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Flickr/Gage Skidmore

There has been a lot of supposition in recent months about what the two main contenders for the presidency will mean for the country on a number of important issues — one of them being technology and innovation.

During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, a number of experts gathered for an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation panel to discuss what a Donald Trump presidency might look like through the lens of remediating existing issues and bolstering future advancements.

Among the topics broached by the nine-person panel, made up of members of Congress, the technology industry and even biotechnology, was the intellectual property protections and protecting data and valuable technology.

While there was no one clear measure or approximation of what Trump might do to end the pirating of ideas from U.S. companies, the panelists seemed to agree that continued cooperation between government and industry is a must.

“This really is an issue of partnership between industry and government that I think is languishing behind where we need to be,” said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio.

Turner went on to say there are three main areas of concerns in this space: theft of data and money, theft of intellectual property, and data stolen by bad state actors. 

“Industry can help government more in that than we can because industry becomes more aware of the vulnerabilities of systems than big government will be,” he said.

The theft of intellectual property is a concept common to the pharmaceutical industry, according to Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of Biotechnology Innovation Organization. From his perspective, patent infringement by countries like India, who may produce an alternative drug from intellectual property, undermine the cycle of paying for new research with money from drug sales.

The lack of a global enforcement mechanism often leaves companies to fight over their patents in the international arena.

“I’m optimistic that under a Trump administration, we are going to see some changes in trade," said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. "I think we are going to like some of them and I think there may be some we don’t like.”

To Farenthold, the pressure posed by industry to keep products flowing into the country is part of the reason there are not more stringent checks on the items being shipped.

“The pressure from most industries is not more inspection; it’s get it through faster," he said. "We’ve got to find the balance there that protects our intellectual property whether it’s a copyright on fraudulent clothing or [computer] chips."

Though there is often the unrealistic expectation that a new administration will change all that ails industry or government, Greenwood said American voters and companies should come to the table with measured expectations.

As for education, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is essential in filling vital technology workforce positions.

“We need to start with our education system," she said. "We need to figure out a way to bring STEM into the classroom and we need to be talking about these technologies when we talk about digital cities, when we talk about the Internet of Things, when we talk about artificial intelligence."

Microsoft's Dan’l Lewin, corporate vice president of technology and civic engagement, agrees that education needs a place in the larger conversation around the advancement of technology.

“The fundamental thing that I think we need to get across in society is … what computational thinking really is," he said. "It’s this fine line, it’s this riddle between what machines can do and what humans can do, and that keeps moving. It always has, and it’s moving very, very fast now.”

But sometimes, conveying the private sector's messages to legislators is easier said than done. Technologists, who often have a reputation as being passionate and totally immersed in a particular project or subject area, don’t always communicate the importance of their work to lawmakers.

“You’ve got to remember that you’ve got such a broad cross section of people from a broad background in Congress, it’s got to be top-line message and it’s almost got to be marketed," Farenthold said. "Have it in bite-size chunks they can understand."

When posed with the question of the importance of globalization and its impact on technology, the panel said involving other countries in the innovative process was a key consideration moving forward. Lewin said he sees a need to not only educate people living in the United States, but also to reform immigration to bring in talent from other sources as well. 

Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, said the U.S. holds a unique place in the globalization process. While other private industries in other countries are often not offered a seat at the table with leaders, the U.S. acts as a sort of private-sector ambassador throughout the world stage.

In many countries, Facebook’s Egan said, there is reluctance on the part of governments to partake in the things connecting their citizens. This, she said, leads to a fractured global environment when it comes to technology. 

“What we do see around the world and a challenge that we have is countries going inward. They’re worried about technology. They’re worried about technology companies that are not homegrown. They’re reacting by looking at data globalization measures, they want to keep data in country. That would essentially balkanize the Internet.”

Despite the Republican party being generally regarded as the business-minded party, many have voiced concerns that Trump would do more to alienate the United States in the trade and innovation realms. Others remain boisterously confident his platform will surpass the likes of the Obama presidency. Only time will tell.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.