In recent weeks, the Trump Administration has stepped up actions to punish China for violations of U.S. owned intellectual property, with a Reuters report noting bi-partisan support for a broad inquiry into China’s trade practices. The timing of the official investigation is unknown due to China’s recent support of UN sanctions against North Korea and increasing tensions in the region.

Regardless, China may wish to dispute its position in the world as the most prolific IP infringer, but statistics reported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), authorities in the European Union and Japan reflect the reality that China is, by far, the source of most of the IP infringing goods seized by customs officials. But there’s more to confronting this issue than simple enforcement.

Through a vigorous inter-agency process that involves industry, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) issues a statutorily mandated report every year that identifies countries whose acts, practices and policies have a negative effect on the ability of U.S. industry to effectively use and protect their IP rights in foreign markets (see 19 U.S.C. § 2242; known as “Special 301”).  The CBP website makes clear that IP is a “Priority Trade Issue,” and the agency underscores that the seizure of IP infringing goods is a priority in its press releases.

From the campaign trail to now, Trump has taken a strong interest in taking a new approach to trade relations with international partners. One important question is whether this new approach continues to place IP as a priority trade issue, and whether agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Trade Development Agency – which are tasked with providing technical assistance and capacity building to our trading partners – will prioritize improvement to the IP landscape abroad.

IP issues are a key component to U.S. businesses pursuing commercial activities abroad, and while traditional enforcement is important, it is equally important to ensure that foreign business communities, government officials, and the public understand the important role IP plays in business development, growth and jobs.

U.S. assistance abroad should not be limited to training and education for police, prosecutors, judges and customs officials, but also include vigorous effort to educate businesses in foreign markets about the important role of IP in business development, growth and job creation. Moreover, U.S. agencies need to provide creative educational programs to government policy makers who are involved in economic development and growth issues so that they too better understand the impact of IP in economic development and growth. By bolstering a more IP-friendly and IP-receptive commercial environment, U.S. businesses should have a better commercial environment that facilitates economic activities.

Some may argue that the U.S. should not undertake efforts to provide IP-related technical assistance for foreign enterprises or government policy makers. Given that U.S. government agencies engage in an annual process to identify IP-related deficiencies around the world, the U.S. should be involved in eliminating those deficiencies in countries that have been known IP infringers. The fact that some countries are regularly cited year after year may be a reflection of their lack of expertise in IP issues.

Simply put, trade is a difficult matter because it encompasses many issues, and IP should be a focal point in these discussions. IP is a global trade agenda issue and U.S. industry will benefit from a more level playing field in markets where IP is better understood, respected and protected.

 

This post was written by Timothy Trainer, coauthor of Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. Trainer also is the founder of the Global Intellectual Property Strategy Center, P.C., a consulting firm representing domestic and international clients, in Washington, D.C. Follow Trainer on Twitter @TTrainerglobal