Baker signs most of economic development bill

Vetoed sections on patent trolling and last-mile broadband


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed most of a $1.15 billion economic development package on Friday afternoon, approving restrictions on the use of non-compete agreements and greenlighting a sales tax holiday for this weekend, but vetoing protections against bad-faith assertions of patent infringement.

The product of a late-session compromise between the House and Senate, the bond bill authorizes almost $538 million in public infrastructure grants for local projects, $250 million for the popular MassWorks municipal infrastructure program and $75 million in grants for technical education and workforce training.

“Our administration is proud to sign our second economic development bill to provide more opportunities to workers, strengthen Massachusetts’ economy and enhance workforce development programs,” Baker said in a statement. “We are pleased to create a sales tax holiday for 2018, continue the MassWorks program and expand workforce skills training to advance the Commonwealth’s innovation economy.”

Baker’s office had already telegraphed that he would sign the provision of the economic development bill that would authorize a sales tax holiday for Aug. 11 and 12, but the governor also approved 63 of the 71 other outside policy sections in the bill.

Baker used his veto pen on a policy section that would have prohibited a person from making an assertion of patent infringement in bad faith, known as “patent trolling.”

In a letter to lawmakers, Baker said he vetoed the provision “because it creates a new cause of action against patent owners in a manner that is not narrowly tailored and is likely to have unintended consequences for Massachusetts residents, companies and educational institutions.”

Baker said he agrees that the state has a role to play in deterring patent trolling and suggested “that the Legislature should revisit this topic in a future session and draft a more focused solution to this problem.”

Sen. Eric Lesser, who shepherded the economic development bill through the Senate and was the chief proponent of the patent trolling language, said Friday he is disappointed that Baker vetoed the section.

“This provision was widely supported in the tech and startup communities as a way to protect entrepreneurs and inventors from patent trolling tactics. These shakedown operations sap resources from new startups and scare people out of inventing things here in Massachusetts, costing us thousands of jobs and potentially billions of dollars in new investment,” Lesser said. “Massachusetts is a global leader in innovation and an incubator for countless new startups, and those entrepreneurs need the protections provided by the section Governor Baker vetoed.”

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The second and final section vetoed by the governor would have created a special commission to study the barriers to establishing “last mile” broadband connections. Baker wrote that he disapproved of the section because the commission “is given an expansive mandate that will likely divert resources and attention from our ongoing work to ensure that all Massachusetts communities have access to broadband.”

The governor sent six parts of the bill back to the Legislature with proposed amendments. He proposed a sunset date for an apprenticeship tax credit program two years later than what the Legislature had approved, arguing that the Legislature’s 2022 sunset date would not provide enough data on the effectiveness of the program.

Baker also proposed amendments to sections dealing with a study of widening Route 2 between Gardner and Concord, a special commission to study data related to programs that support stable housing and economic self-sufficiency, and a task force that was to stimulate the revitalization of industrial mill buildings.