Friday, March 01, 2019

IP Commission Recommends Steps to Protect America From International IP Theft

On February 21, 2019, the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property issued a report highlighting "policy developments in the last 18 months related to strengthening the United States' ability to protect IP." The IP Commission's 2019 Review focused on U.S.-China relations, offering recommendations for more effectively preventing forced technology transfers, economic espionage, and intellectual property (IP) theft. 

According to the IP Commission's 2017 report, "the annual cost of counterfeit goods, pirated software, and theft of trade secrets to the U.S. economyis between $225 billion and $600 billion," and China is "the world's principal IP infringer." In fiscal year 2017, 87% of counterfeit goods seized coming into the U.S. originated from China and Hong Kong.

The IP Commission's 2019 Review applauded American policymakers' responses to Chinese IP wrongful practices:
The Trump Administration has elevated the elimination of China’s theft of American IP, whether through cyber-theft, forced technology transfers, stolen trade secrets, counterfeiting of products, or other means, to one of the leading foreign policy priorities and a top goal of the U.S.-China economic negotiations. 

The IP Commission acknowledged the Section 301 investigative report findings of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding Chinese IP policies and practices. The USTR concluded that China "unfairly target[s] critical U.S. technology with the goal of achieving dominance in strategic sectors" and that its practices are harmful to American innovation and competitiveness. Additionally, the IP Commission's 2019 Review acknowledged the USTR's placement of China on the "Priority Watch List" over concerns that include "trade secret theft, online piracy and counterfeiting, a high volume of manufacturing and exporting counterfeit goods, technology transfer requirements, mandatory application of adverse terms to foreign IP licensors, localization requirements, and weak enforcement." 

Finally, the IP Commission made several recommendations for strengthening American IP protections from foreign theft, including: (1) construction of an"independent international database for scoring of entities from foreign countries that pose IP risk;" (2) a streamlined process for reporting and responding to IP theft; (3) requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to determine whether companies' use of stolen IP ought to be publicly reported; (4) meaningful sanctions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against foreign companies using stolen IP; and (5) use of "multilateral institutions to harmonize national and international legal and regulatory frameworks."

Previously, FSF President Randolph May and I have addressed the pressing need to strengthen protections for Americans' IP internationally – particularly for copyrighted movies and music. In our Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper, "Modernizing International Copyright Agreements to Combat Copyright Infringement," we explain that several foreign countries insufficiently protect Americans' copyrighted works from digital piracy and online infringement taking place through cyberlocker websites and stream-ripping websites. As we urged there: "The Trump Administration should ensure that stronger protections for Americans' creative works are included in new treaties and trade agreements that are attuned to the Digital Age."

In particular, the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) would strengthen copyright protections and enforcement by securing Americans' full enjoyment of exclusive rights in sound recordings, ensuring longer protection terms, and providing stronger civil remedies and criminal penalties for copyright infringement. However, international agreements such as USMCA should not include outdated online infringement provisions that are similar to Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Section 512 is ineffective in protecting copyrighted movies and music from massive online infringement via user-upload websites. We identify problems with Section 512 and call for reforms to strengthen online copyright protections in our Perspectives paper, "Modernizing Civil Copyright Enforcement for the Digital Age Economy: The Need for Notice-and-Takedown Reforms and Small Claims Relief."

In sum, in the interest of securing greater protection for Americans' intellectual property, it's worth paying close attention to the IP Commission's most recent report