Hatch Stalls Patent Chief's Plan: In a victory for online and telecommunications companies, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, effectively told patent chief Bruce Lehman to freeze U.S. negotiations on the multinational Berne treaty on intellectual-property protection, scheduled for completion in December. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said Congress had failed this year to settle controversial issues, such as database protection and liability for online piracy, and did not want "its hands tied" by Lehman's negotiators at the Berne Convention in Switzerland. Hatch's move was a defeat for the content owners, who had backed Lehman's negotiating stance amid strong opposition from telecommunications companies. Hatch also dropped his plan, which was backed by Lehman, to transfer the nation's copyright office from the Library of Congress to the patent office.

Encryption-Decontrol Bill Stalled: Despite strong support from the infotech industry, the Senate's draft encryption-decontrol bill was derailed by Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., and several other senators concerned about the bill's rapid pace, say congressional staffers.

On Sept. 9, Exon sent a letter to the bill's main backer, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., saying the draft bill was too expansive and needed changing. Burns had hoped to win passage through the Senate commerce committee on the 12th. The White House also contributed to Burns' defeat by telling senators that it was preparing a new proposal intended to meet some of industry's demands. But even if Burns' bill had won the committee's approval, there was no sign that the House would approve matching legislation before adjourning.

Senate Passes Anti-Hacker Bill: The Senate has passed an anti-hacker law that imposed stiff penalties on hackers who steal computerized information, disrupt computer operations or covertly use more than $5,000 worth of computer time. The maximum penalty is five years in jail, plus additional fines. The bill, S 982, is titled "The National Information Infrastructure Protection Act, and still must win approval from the House, where similar legislation is being prepared.

Space Bill Grounded: The House Science Committee approved a bill to promote the commercialization of space, but the House's packed calendar -- and the lack of matching legislation in the Senate -- will likely prevent it from becoming law before Congress adjourns.

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