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Trump v. Clinton, Tech Edition

By Benjamin Shepherd on August 8, 2016

I usually avoid discussing politics in these columns, given the odds of getting nasty emails from one side or the other (sometimes both). But it’s election time and we can’t ignore the elephant and the donkey in the room: who’ll be sitting in the White House next year.

I believe there will always be money to be made in the market no matter who sits in the White House. Sometimes that means just following the crumb trail of federal dollars.

In the case of technology, both candidates have said some things that could affect the tech sector. I’m not shilling for one or the other, just doing a bit of compare and contrast.

Donald Trump has become somewhat notorious for not giving details about his policy positions. But what he has said has made technology companies nervous. For instance, he’s talked about increasing wage levels for workers who enter the country on H-1B visas, which are mainly used by technology companies to bring in employees with skill sets not easily found in the States. He also wants companies to give preference to hiring Americans instead of immigrants. That will make hiring tougher for tech companies, and effectively raise the wage rate they pay.

He’s also talked about closing parts of the Internet where extremists conduct their business, which even some of his most ardent supporters admit isn’t a practical idea. He has also gone after Apple for building iPhones in China and not helping American law enforcement break into those phones.

There is one plank in Trump’s platform that the tech industry can support: stopping China from ripping off American technology. China has technology sharing rules, which require foreign technology companies to share patents with Chinese companies in order to enter the Chinese market. That’s like handing the keys of the factory to a competitor, and there have been cases where those Chinese partners have run the foreign company out. American tech firms want to see those rules changed.

On balance the tech sector is nervous about the prospect of a Trump presidency with some, such as Apple, withdrawing their contributions to the recent Republican National Convention.

Clinton Capital

Hillary Clinton wants the government to spend big on helping tech startups tap into capital, which techies love. She also wants to expand broadband entitlement programs to close what’s left of the digital divide in America– poor or rural communities that don’t have reliable, high-speed access. That could help tech firms move some operations to lower cost-of-living areas, which would save them money and would help attract recent college graduates to their companies.

Speaking of college graduates, she’s also talked about “stapling a green card” to master’s degrees and PhD diplomas earned by foreign nationals in the U.S. That is, helping those with science, engineering, technology and math advanced degrees stay in our country. Silicon Valley is clearly a fan of that proposal.

She’s also talked about reforming patent and copyright laws so that companies can use older patents as a basis for their work without having to pay patent trolls. She hasn’t given a lot of details on this front, but trolls cost the industry millions of dollars a year by buying up old patents, then aggressively litigating them. Their claims are paper thin in many cases, but companies often end up paying the trolls off.

Clinton had raised more than $31 million from technology companies or people who work for them through June. Trump had raised only about $165,000.

So when it comes to the tech companies, advantage Clinton.

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