Stronger IP Protection Coming?

I attended a really interesting panel discussion today at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a DC think tank on the IT world.  Topic was how to better protect our IP, and what not protecting it properly is costing us. It was eye opening.

The key speaker was Victoria Espinel, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator – the first person ever put in this newly created position.  Very glad to see the gov’t putting some dedicated resource in this area. Surprisingly, she noted that there is a lot of agreement and support from both sides of the political aisle on this issue – I guess she has one of the better jobs in the Administration from that perspective.

Her remarks briefly introduced the 2010 Strategic Plan on IP Enforcement, a new initiative focusing on 6 broad categories for action to better protect American IP: leading by example, increasing transparency in enforcement policy, ensuring efficiency and coordination of enforcement activities among various levels of enforcement entities, enforcing US patent rights overseas, securing the US supply chain to stem the flow of  ‘infringing’ products,  and building a data-driven gov’t in the US.  So far, 33 specific action items have been identified- Ms. Espinel expects the list to be fluid given the dyamics of IP-related businesses. 

Other panelists included leaders from industry association groups – all giving testimony to the serious problem piracy poses to our economy.  All speakers pointed readily at China as the biggest offender. While class readings for the Science and Technology Policy cornerstone class noted that China is making progress in this area, you wouldn’t have known it from the speakers present today, all of whom had highly animated commentary about ‘stealing’ American innovation, and the particular harm this has on US small-medium businesses.  Morgan Reed of ACT noted that small software companies are reaching a point of not even considering China in their market space, knowing that any IP that is sent there will be widely distributed in short order for no compensation.  They can’t begin to compete in this kind of environment, so will have to forego the market opportunity all together.  This hurts business.

Emery Simon of the Association for Competitive Technology surprised me greatly when he claimed that the lion’s share of $50B annual losses to software piracy come from corporation abuse of licensing – both outside and within the US.  Companies are buying 10 and using 100.  This costs us jobs right here at home.  Not to mention it’s just kind of unethical and well, wrong… As one who has made part of her living through writing, I have a lot of respect for other people’s IP. 

Getting a handle on this huge problem, even cutting down by 15-20%, is going to be a challenge, but the pay-offs will be great if it can be done.  Kudos for the Obama Administration for bumping this high enough up the priority list to get an organized effort around it.

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