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J. Craig Shearman
National Retail Federation|nrf.com

When the White House decided to crack down on patent trolls, administration officials didn’t waste time identifying the industry that has quickly become one of trolls’ biggest targets — retail.

“Patent trolls are increasingly targeting Main Street retailers,” the White House said, specifically citing infringement claims over retail point-of-sale software and business methods. “End-users should not be subject to lawsuits for simply using a product as intended.”

When the most recent patent reform law was passed just two years ago, frivolous lawsuits over dubious patent claims were a problem mostly for the high-tech industry and were rarely seen by retailers. Since then, patent trolls — companies that buy obscure patents from inventors and then make millions threatening to sue innocent users of the technology — have gone after merchants on a large scale. read more »

 

You could hear the anger rising in the voice of U.S. Rep. Steve Womack as he stood before a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom jammed with retailers this week. He was explaining how customers in an electronics store back home routinely use smartphones to check online prices of merchandise, then click “buy it now” in plain sight of the store’s owner. Even though the store has a policy of matching online prices, it cannot by law waive Arkansas’ 6 percent sales tax, and sales are lost to tax-free online competitors not once in a while but several times each day.

“How could somebody walk into a business and order online right in front of them? That’s a slap in the face!” Womack said. “They ought to have the decency to at least walk outside.” read more »

 
Commentary

The first time I ever wrote about health care reform was around 1980, when health maintenance organizations were becoming popular and I was a young newspaper reporter with a vested interest — I was making the move from my parents’ policy to getting health care benefits of my own.

HMOs were the health care “reform” of the days before computers, iPods or even the Walkman. They were going to make insurance cheaper, make it easier to get in to see a doctor, and costs would be kept manageable with small co-pays instead of paying bills up front and waiting to get reimbursed.

What a joke. Within a few years, HMOs became the gatekeeper of American health care. Doctors pressured to see a maximum number of patients per day for whatever the HMO was willing to pay no longer had time to play Marcus Welby. read more »

 

When I first got “volunteered” to do PR on swipe fees half a dozen years ago, I thought this was a subject for what my old boss on Capitol Hill used to call “green eye-shaded accountants.” Who could care about a couple of percentage points on a credit or debit card transaction?

But when I told my brother, a Maryland optician whose stores had seen banks skim 2 percent or more off their already-narrow margins for years, I got an earful. And the same from my wife’s cousin, who owns a bakery in San Francisco where swipe amounts to an even bigger percentage on small-ticket items like a bagel and cup of coffee. And her other cousin, a jeweler in New York who can lose hundreds of dollars when a customer uses plastic to buy a wedding ring or Rolex. read more »

 

A new report out this week shows credit and debit card swipe fees are adding as much as 10 cents a gallon to rising gasoline prices that are diverting billions of dollars from consumer spending.

“Higher gas prices create an additional burden for consumers already wrestling with a weak economy,” the National Association of Convenience Stores said in the report. “Higher gas prices … hurt almost everyone.” read more »

 
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