US Launches Coordinated Response To Intellectual-Property Threats

Dow Jones Newswire
The Obama administration Tuesday rolled out an interagency strategy to protect intellectual-property rights, with plans to target growing threats such as fake drugs and Internet-based piracy.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the multipronged plan to stem the loss of billions of dollars a year generated from innovation, which he described as “perhaps our greatest export.”

Beyond just stifling creativity, counterfeiting can also pose a safety risk, said Biden, flanked by a number of cabinet officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

“Whether we’re talking about fake drugs that hurt instead of help the patient, or knockoff car tires that fall apart at 65 miles an hour causing injury and death, counterfeits kill–counterfeits kill,” Biden said.

One immediate plan of action stemming from the 33-part strategy is to propose legislation to require companies to alert the FDA about counterfeit medications and to implement electronic tracking of drugs and medical products.

In addition to stepping up policing of imports, the administration also sees intellectual-property rights as part of its plan to double exports over the next five years.

“Some of our businesses feel like they could use some help when they’re navigating markets overseas,” Victoria Espinel, intellectual-property enforcement coordinator, told Dow Jones in an interview.

“We obviously want this strategy to be one of the things that the administration is doing to increase our exports, by making sure that our export markets are as viable as possible,” said Espinel, who prepared the strategy.

China, which accounted for nearly 80% of counterfeit or pirated goods seized by U.S. customs officials last year, looms large in the strategy. The government is focusing on China’s market in its effort to help U.S. businesses gain entry and enforce their intellectual-property rights.

Biden and other U.S. officials stressed that the U.S. isn’t singling out China as an offender of intellectual property rights violators, however.

“China is one, but it’s only one,” Robert Hormats, U.S. under-secretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs, told Dow Jones.

Hormats said the message to China and other countries that lack strong protections is that the U.S. is going to get “a lot tougher” about insisting on enforcement. But the administration is seeking better cooperation, not confrontation, he said.

The high-profile unveiling of the plan drew wide praise from industry groups ranging from media firms to shoe makers.

Viacom Inc. (VIA) Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said in a statement the “historic moment” marks the first time the government “is bringing to bear its full powers to the critical mission of protecting intellectual property–one of this country’s most important economic engines.”

Mark Esper, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, said the presence of the vice president and various cabinet officials suggests the administration understands the need for a comprehensive approach.

“In the past, frankly, we have not had as well a coordinated approach as we could have,” he said.

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