Intellectual Property:

Enhancements to Coordinating U.S. Enforcement Efforts

GAO-10-219T: Published: Dec 9, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 2009.

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Intellectual property (IP) is an important component of the U.S. economy. U.S. government efforts to protect and enforce IP rights domestically and overseas are crucial to safeguarding innovation and preventing significant losses to U.S. industry and IP rights owners as well as addressing health and safety risks resulting from the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods. The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (PRO-IP Act) created a new interagency IP enforcement advisory committee and authorized the President to appoint an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) position within the Executive Office of the President to chair the new committee. In September 2009, the President submitted his nomination to the Senate for confirmation and, on December 3, 2009, the Senate confirmed Victoria Espinel as the first IPEC. This testimony will address two topics on IP protection and enforcement in anticipation of some of the challenges ahead in implementing the PRO-IP Act: (1) lessons learned from past efforts to coordinate IP protection and enforcement and (2) observations on a recent initiative to place IP attaches overseas to promote and protect IP rights, based on our field work at four posts in three case study countries. These remarks are based on a variety of assignments that GAO has conducted over the past 3 years on the international and domestic efforts undertaken by U.S. agencies to coordinate their efforts to address IP theft and piracy issues. Most recently, we conducted field work in March 2009 at four posts in three countries: Beijing and Guangzhou, China; New Delhi, India; and Bangkok, Thailand.

The PRO-IP Act of 2008 enacted several changes that address weaknesses that we described with the prior IP coordinating structure. The prior structure was initiated under two different authorities and lacked clear leadership and permanence, hampering its effectiveness and long-term viability. In 1999, Congress created the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council (NIPLECC) as a mechanism to coordinate U.S. efforts in the United States and overseas. In 2004, the Bush Administration announced the Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP), which included a similar group of U.S. agencies under a Presidential Initiative. In our reporting, we described how NIPLECC had struggled to define its purpose and retained an image of inactivity within the private sector. In a report undertaken for this Committee in 2004, we noted that NIPLECC had little discernible impact and had not undertaken any independent activities since it was created, according to interviews with agency officials and its own reports. Congress subsequently made enhancements to NIPLECC in December 2004 to strengthen its role, but we reported, in 2006, that it continued to have leadership problems. In contrast, the presidential initiative called STOP had a positive image compared to NIPLECC, but lacked permanence, since there was no assurance that its authority and influence would continue in successive administrations. Unlike NIPLECC, STOP from its beginning was characterized by a high level of active coordination and visibility. Many agency officials said that STOP has increased attention to IP issues within their agencies and the private sector, as well as abroad, and attributed that to the fact that STOP came out of the White House, thereby lending it more authority and influence. STOP was also a first step toward an integrated strategy to protect and enforce U.S. IP rights. However, we found that STOP's potential as a national strategy was limited because it did not fully address important characteristics of an effective strategy. For example, its performance measures lacked targets to assess how well the activities were being implemented. In addition, the strategy lacked a risk management framework and a discussion of current or future costs--important elements to effectively balance the threats from counterfeit products with the resources available. Although STOP identified organizational roles and responsibilities with respect to individual agencies' STOP activities, it did not specify who would provide oversight and accountability among the agencies carrying out the strategy. An additional theme of the PRO-IP Act is the emphasis on federal efforts to strengthen the capacity of foreign governments to protect and enforce IP rights. In September 2009, we reported that the USPTO IP attaches were generally effective in collaborating with other agencies at the four posts we visited, primarily by adopting practices, such as acting as effective focal points, establishing working groups and leveraging resources through joint activities.

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