911 Direct Dial and Patent Notifications 
March 26, 2014 


Dear WH&LA Lodging Member:  


We would like to update you on two important issues that have appeared at both the state level and the national level that you should be aware of.   

911 Direct Call Capability 
Over a year ago, legislation was introduced in the Wisconsin state legislature that would have required all properties to provide the ability for a person to dial 911 direct to a 911 call center, without having to go through your front desk or other staff, from all public phones at your lodging property. This proposal originated from a task force on emergency services, and was one of many bills this task force promoted. Due to the projected technology and costs such a requirement would impose, the bill did not move forward, and even with the state Senate wrapping up next week it is considered "dead" as it did not pass the Assembly.

Recently, we advised members of a recent death at a Texas lodging property where a 9-year-old child kept trying to dial 911 when her mother was being attacked but did not know dialing a "9" first was required, and she was repeatedly not able to connect to a live person to assist. The media and advocacy groups pursued federal action to prevent this from happening again, leading to both legislators and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) contacting AH&LA and some of the largest brands to see what can be done.

AH&LA immediately created a 911 Task Force, with almost 50 industry executives from various companies and independent properties, along with three state lodging association execs (including WH&LA) who have worked on this issue at the state level. The task force requested a national survey of properties, in order to learn more accurate data on the capability of properties to offer direct 911 calls. Many Wisconsin properties participated in the survey, either through their brand, or when WH&LA notified all independent property members on how to participate. The survey found nationally that 45% of franchised properties and 32% of independent properties currently have direct 911 dialing.

The task force also learned that a large number of properties, primarily branded or independents within a multiple ownership or management company, utilize phone systems customized for the lodging industry that are already capable of providing direct dial 911, with a minor activation required by the vendor or a qualified technician. They are currently also reaching out to other vendors to offer solutions for systems not as readily convertible.

Yesterday, the AP released a story called "Thousands of hotels don't offer direct 911"
which has been picked up by CBS and likely many other media outlets. You may begin to see more widespread coverage in the coming days.

AH&LA has also created a media statement as well as an Industry Recommendation and Report that includes a recommendation to the lodging industry. The bottom line is that it is important for each property to evaluate its 911 call capabilities, keeping in mind guests' safety first, while also reviewing technical options. You may also want to prepare for the potential of the media to expand coverage closer to home - possibly contacting individual properties to find out how you provide 911 call service and if this is currently limited, what your plans are for improvement. AH&LA will continue to work with all parties on behalf of the lodging industry, and to keep us informed.

Patent Notifications 
Last Thursday, after considerable behind-the-scenes discussions that included WH&LA, the state Assembly approved SB 498, a bill on Patent Notification Reform, already passed by the state Senate with amendments. Wisconsin is one of the first states to pursue and pass some protections against unscrupulous individuals and companies who have been sending out "patent notifications" to primarily small businesses, including lodging properties (usually relating to providing Wi-Fi services), claiming infringement on their patent rights, which is baseless. These notifications usually contain little information, look legally official, and utilize scare tactics that sometimes lead to the business choosing to pay them a settlement fee instead of paying attorney fees to fight it.

This state bill, which is now awaiting the Governor's action to sign it into law (or to veto it, which we believe is unlikely), will require those sending patent notifications to include much more information on the patent infringement claimed, also giving the person receiving it the right to return it for lack of required information and providing just 30 days for the notifier to comply or release their claim. It includes authorization of both the DATCP state agency and the state Attorney General to investigate any claims of false, misleading, deceptive or non-complying notifications, and providing for a fine of up to $50,000 for each violation. Some exemptions for providing extensive information were given to such readily credible entities as institutions of higher education, health care or research institutions with expenditures of over $10 million, and those with patents subject to approval by the FDA or Dept. of Agriculture.

We are pleased that Sen. Paul Farrow and Rep. Adam Neylon introduced and pursued this legislation to protect innocent small lodging properties and other businesses from those looking to scam their money.

On the federal level, a bill called the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309) was introduced by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), with some similar and additional measures to restrict abuse of "patent trolls," while still protecting the invention rights of qualified inventors. AH&LA is working on this issue on the House side for now. 

Watch for future Capitol Insider issues for more news.  

Contact: Trisha Pugal
Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association