Intellectual Property:

Enhanced Planning by U.S. Personnel Overseas Could Strengthen Efforts

GAO-09-863: Published: Sep 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2009.

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Intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement is inadequate in parts of the world, resulting in significant losses to U.S. industry and increased public health and safety risks. GAO was asked to evaluate U.S. government efforts to enhance protection and enforcement of IP overseas. Using a case study approach, this report (1) describes the key IP protection and enforcement issues at four posts in China, India, and Thailand; (2) assesses the extent to which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) IP attach?s and the Department of Justice (DOJ) IP Law Enforcement Coordinator (IPLEC) effectively collaborate with other agencies at the posts; and (3) evaluates the extent to which each of the posts has undertaken interagency planning in collaborating on its IP-related activities. GAO examined U.S. government documents and interviewed headquarters and post agency officials as well as U.S. private-sector and host-country representatives.

The U.S. government has identified weak enforcement as a key IP issue in the three case study countries; however, weaknesses also persist in their IP laws and regulations. According to the U.S. government, enforcement of existing IP laws and regulations and adjudication of suspected infringements are limited and inconsistent, and penalties are not typically sufficient to serve as an effective deterrent. U.S. government documents and U.S. officials we interviewed cited several factors that contribute to this limited and inconsistent enforcement, including flawed enforcement procedures; a lack of technical skills and knowledge of IP among police, prosecutors, and judges; a lack of resources dedicated to IP enforcement efforts; and the absence of broad-based domestic support for strong IP enforcement. The USPTO IP attach?s were generally effective in collaborating with other agencies at the four posts, primarily by acting as IP focal points, while the DOJ IPLEC collaborated with both post agencies and agency headquarters via IP forums. The IP attach?s shared common characteristics that made them effective, such as IP expertise, the ability to work full time on IP, and having roles and responsibilities for which there was general agreement among post agencies and leadership. At two posts, several agency officials stated that the IP attach?s were instrumental in establishing and maintaining interagency IP working groups to share ideas and coordinate on activities, enabling the agencies to speak with one voice on IP. The IPLEC collaborated through country and regional IP forums that provided technical assistance to foreign law enforcement agencies and judges on IP law enforcement issues and facilitated a network among U.S. and foreign government officials for sharing information on IP criminal investigations. The IPLEC also collaborated on case work for an array of mostly non-IP criminal activities, including money laundering, fraud, human trafficking, and child exploitation, in fulfilling his other duties as DOJ attach?. While the four posts have adopted several practices to collaborate effectively on IP, three out of the four have not adopted interagency plans to address key IP issues. Current policy guidance on IP at the posts, such as the annual Special 301 report and embassy mission strategic plans, is high level and not generally used for planning agencies' day-to-day IP efforts. Posts could potentially enhance collaboration by developing joint strategies to translate the key IP issues identified by the U.S. government into specific objectives and activities. One post, the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, has developed a joint strategy in the form of an interagency IP work plan with specific objectives and prescribed activities for addressing key IP issues. Joint strategies can help agencies prioritize existing efforts, avoid duplication of efforts, formulate a common IP message to foreign governments, and maintain focus on IP given competing issues and personnel changes at posts.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Department of State issued a cable in November 2009 to those posts with IP attaches at the time, noting the Department's concurrence with our recommendation and directing post leadership to work with IP attaches to determine how to effectively apply GAO's suggestions and implement the recommendation. Subsequently, the 6 posts that currently have IP attaches have developed interagency IP work plans for 2011. Per our recommendation, these completed plans include IP protection and enforcement issues and objectives, specify how members will accomplish the objectives, and name which agencies will be responsible. Also per our recommendation that the plans be annual plans, 5 of the 6 interagency work plans specifically identify deliverables to be accomplished within 12 months as well as long-term deliverables.

    Recommendation: To more effectively ensure that activities at U.S. posts with USPTO IP attaces consistently address the key IP protection and enforcement issues identified by the U.S. government, the Secretary of State should direct post leadership in countries with USPTO IP attaches to work with the USPTO IP attaches to develop annual IP interagency work plans to be used by the post IP working groups with input from relevant agencies, which set objectives and identify activities for addressing key IP protection and enforcement issues defined by the U.S. government, taking into account the range of expertise of responsible agencies, available resources, and agency specific IP goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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