US Government Seeks to Tighten IP Rights Protection

Dan Whalen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

In an effort to curtail intellectual property infringement, the Obama administration released the first Annual Report on Intellectual Property Enforcement. The administration announced that it plans to send the proposal to US Congress “in the very near future” to begin shaping its recommendations into law. Beyond this report, however, there is no detail as to what the provisions of the proposed law would hold.

The report was directed by the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel, a position freshly created by the Pro IP Act signed into law by former President Bush in October 2008.  The report itself is the outcome of the earlier Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, which Ms. Espinel sent to the President and Congress in mid-2010. That document was developed by the efforts of several federal agencies, including the US Copyright Office and the US Trade Representative, as well as significant public input. As a result of this process, the authors identified 33 action items falling into six categories: (1) leading by example; (2) increasing transparency; (3) improving efficiency and coordination of law enforcement; (4) enforcing US rights internationally; (5) securing the country’s supply chain; and (6) improving data collection on enforcement efforts. These initiatives were then put into action and this report thus serves as part status update, part list of recommendations.

The report marks another step taken by the US government in recent years towards stricter protection of IP rights. Ms. Espinel’s position itself is a new creation, established by the Pro IP Act signed into law by former President Bush in October 2008. Fans of tighter control seem pleased with the report. An affiliate of the US Chamber of commerce, reflecting on the report, wrote that it “[stands] ready to work with Congress and the administration to build on this plan and ensure that we comprehensively address the multiple threats to IP.” However, not all are so thrilled by the tone of the government’s emphasis. One commentator, for instance, wrote that the “strategy reads like a checklist of what the big IP lobbyists wanted,” without mentioning smaller users’ interests, like fair use rights. Although the report’s focus is telling, final judgment ought to be reserved until legislation is drafted.