Intellectual Property:

U.S. Efforts Have Contributed to Strengthened Laws Overseas, but Challenges Remain

GAO-04-912: Published: Sep 8, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2004.

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Although the U.S. government provides broad protection for intellectual property, intellectual property protection in parts of the world is inadequate. As a result, U.S. goods are subject to piracy and counterfeiting in many countries. A number of U.S. agencies are engaged in efforts to improve protection of U.S. intellectual property abroad. This report describes U.S agencies' efforts, the mechanisms used to coordinate these efforts, and the impact of these efforts and the challenges they face.

U.S. agencies undertake policy initiatives, training and assistance activities, and law enforcement actions in an effort to improve protection of U.S. intellectual property abroad. Policy initiatives include assessing global intellectual property challenges and identifying countries with the most significant problems--an annual interagency process known as the "Special 301" review--and negotiating agreements that address intellectual property. In addition, many agencies engage in training and assistance activities, such as providing training for foreign officials. Finally, a small number of agencies carry out law enforcement actions, such as criminal investigations involving foreign parties and seizures of counterfeit merchandise. Agencies use several mechanisms to coordinate their efforts, although the mechanisms' usefulness varies. Formal interagency meetings--part of the U.S. government's annual Special 301 review--allow agencies to discuss intellectual property policy concerns and are seen by government and industry sources as rigorous and effective. In addition, a voluntary interagency training coordination group meets about once a month to discuss and coordinate training activities. However, the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council, established to coordinate domestic and international intellectual property law enforcement, has struggled to find a clear mission, has undertaken few activities, and is generally viewed as having little impact. U.S. efforts have contributed to strengthened intellectual property legislation overseas, but enforcement in many countries remains weak. The Special 301 review is widely seen as effective, but the impact of actions such as diplomatic efforts and training activities can be hard to measure. U.S. industry has been supportive of U.S. actions. However, future U.S. efforts face significant challenges. For example, competing U.S. policy objectives take precedence over protecting intellectual property in certain regions. Further, other countries' domestic policy objectives can affect their "political will" to address U.S. concerns. Finally, many economic factors, as well as the involvement of organized crime, hinder U.S. and foreign governments' efforts to protect U.S. intellectual property abroad.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1999, Congress created the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council (NIPLECC) to coordinate domestic and international intellectual property law enforcement efforts among multiple U.S. federal and foreign entities. Because NIPLEEC's authorizing legislation does not clearly define the council's mission, in September 2004, GAO put forward a matter for Congressional Consideration to review the council's authority, operating structure, membership and mission. GAO noted that the council had struggled to establish its purpose and role, and is generally viewed as having little impact. Also, in September 2004, GAO testified on U.S. efforts, including the council's efforts, to strengthen intellectual property (IP) protection laws overseas. Congress addressed the council's lack of activity and unclear mission in the 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The Congressional Research Service reported that this appropriation followed a recent GAO report. The act called for NIPLECC to (1) establish policies, objectives, and priorities concerning international IP protection and enforcement; (2) promulgate a strategy for protecting American IP overseas; and (3) coordinate and oversee implementation of these policies, objectives, and priorities and overall strategy for protecting America IP overseas by agencies with IP responsibilities. The act also provided a direct appropriation of $2 million for the council's expenses through the end of the fiscal year 2006, in contrast to previous years when the council was indirectly funded by the participating agencies. The legislation also created the position of the Coordinator for International Intellectual property Enforcement, also known as the "IP Coordinator," to head the council. The IP Coordinator is appointed by the President and may not serve in any other position in the federal government. The co-chairs for the council are required to report to the IP Coordinator.

    Matter: Because the authorizing legislation for the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council (NIPLECC) does not clearly define the council's mission, NIPLECC has struggled to establish its purpose and unique role. If the Congress wishes to maintain NIPLECC and take action to increase its effectiveness, the Congress may wish to consider reviewing the council's authority, operating structure, membership, and mission. Such consideration could help the NIPLECC identify appropriate activities and operate more effectively to coordinate intellectual property law enforcement issues.


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