US sharpens intellectual property crime battleaxe

US Department of Justice set up a task force that will focus on battling US and international intellectual property crimes.

After years of criticism, the Department of Justice today set up a task force it says will focus exclusively on battling US and international intellectual property crimes

The Task Force will focus on bolstering efforts to combat intellectual property crimes through close coordination with state and local law enforcement partners as well as international counterparts, the DoJ stated.  It will also monitor and coordinate overall intellectual property enforcement efforts at the DoJ, with an increased focus on the international IP enforcement, including the links between IP crime and international organized crime.  The Task Force will also develop policies  to address what the DoJ called evolving technological and legal landscape of this area of law enforcement. 

As part of its mission, the Task Force will work closely with and make recommendations to the recently established Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), which reports to the  Executive Office of the President and is supposed to develop an overarching US strategic plan on intellectual property.

Critics have long said the US needs to do something to put a crimp in the over  $200 billion counterfeit and pirated goods industry with better enforcement and increased penalties for violations.

The Government Accountability Office noted that a broad range of IP-protected products are subject to being counterfeited or pirated, from luxury goods and brand name apparel to computer software and digital media to food and medicine. Evidence of counterfeiting in industries whose products have a public health or safety component, such as auto and airline parts; electrical, health, and beauty products; batteries; pharmaceuticals; and infant formula, presents a significant concern. The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 10% of medicines sold worldwide are believed to be counterfeit.   

Industries that rely on IP protection-including the aerospace, automotive, computer, pharmaceutical, semiconductor, motion picture, and recording industries-are estimated to have accounted for 26% of the annual gross domestic product growth rate during this period and about 40% of U.S. exports of goods and services in 2003 through 2004. Further, they are among the highest-paying employers in the country, representing an estimated 18 million workers or 13% of the labor force, as of 2008, according to the GAO. 

Part of the problems with IP enforcement is that even within the US the sheer amount of agencies involved makes it difficult.  For example, overseas personnel from the Departments of Commerce (Commerce), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ) and State (State), and from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) all are involved  in intellectual property efforts, the GAO has noted. 

The new task force is represented by a variety of agencies as well, such as the US  Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Associate Attorney General; the Criminal Division; the Civil Division; the Antitrust Division; the Office of Legal Policy; the Office of Justice Programs; the Attorney General's Advisory Committee; the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and the FBI. 

The GAO has noted in the past that many factors influence the amount of time spent on IP activities among personnel who have a range of responsibilities that extend beyond IP.  For example, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI have competing priorities such as protecting national security that generally take precedence over IP. 

The DoJ At the end of fiscal year 2008 had attachés posted in 10 locations: Rome, Mexico City, Brussels, San Salvador, Paris, London, Manila, Cairo, Bogotá, and Bangkok., DOJ had attachés posted in 10 locations: Rome, Mexico City, Brussels, San Salvador, Paris, London, Manila, Cairo, Bogotá, and Bangkok. DOJ officials stated that all the DOJ attachés are available to do IP work, but the extent to which they actually perform IP casework depends on the IP cases that arise in the country and how they are weighed against other priorities, the GAO stated. 

It's hard to tell how this new task force will fare. And will its penalize IP crimes more than in the past? Attorney General Eric Holder said the Task Force will let the DoJ identify and implement a multi-faceted strategy with our federal, state and international partners to effectively combat this type of crime. 

We'll see. 

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