Protection of intellectual property rights

Protection of intellectual property rights


The protection of intellectual property rights represented by copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets is an essential element of U.S. economic policy. Such protection stimulates research, technological innovation, and creativity because it allows individuals and companies to enjoy the benefits of their creative efforts. International emphasis on high-technology industries highlights the fact that the protection of U.S. intellectual property rights worldwide is essential to America’s ability to compete in the global market.

In some parts of the world, piracy–the unauthorized copying of books, films, sound recordings, computer software, and semi-conductor chips–and counterfeiting are commonplace. Counterfeiting, once limited to illegal copies of brand-name consumer goods, now occurs in products such as pharmaceuticals, agrichemicals, and spare parts for aircraft. Estimated losses to U.S. owners of intellectual property rights from these illegal activities amount to billions of dollars each year.

The U.S. Strategy

The United States has a two-pronged approach to strengthening the protection of intellectual property abroad: It seeks to raise international standards of protection through international agreements and organizations, and it pursues improvements in protection and enforcement in bilateral negotiations with its trading partners. In addition, a foreign country’s record of protection for intellectual property is linked in U.S. legislation to eligibility for benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences and the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Multilateral Actions

The United States made intellectual property protection a major focus of its efforts in the Uruguay Round trade negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which was part of the package to emerge from the Uruguay Round, will significantly strengthen the protection of intellectual property internationally. Improvements mandated by the TRIPs agreement include:

* Protection of computer programs as literary works;

* Rental rights for computer programs and sound recordings;

* Fifty years of copyright protection for sound recordings and motion pictures;

* Product and process patent protection for virtually all types of inventions;

* A minimum patent term of 20 years;

* Protection for service marks;

* Stronger protection for internationally well-known marks; and

* Protection for trade secrets, integrated circuits, industrial designs, and non-generic geographical indications used to describe wines and spirits.

In addition, TRIPs requires effective enforcement measures by GATT members, both internally and at their borders.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), concluded in 1993, provides for even higher standards of intellectual property fights protection in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, than required under TRIPS.

The United States also works to strengthen existing intellectual property conventions and to develop new agreements under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which acts as secretariat for these conventions. Among the new agreements under discussion in WIPO are a protocol to expand coverage of the Berne Copyright Convention, a new agreement to protect performers and producers of sound recordings, and a Patent Harmonization Treaty.

Bilateral Actions

In recent years, the United States has initiated discussions with many foreign governments on intellectual property protection. These discussions have resulted in bilateral agreements on intellectual property rights protection with a number of important U.S. trading partners, including South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Russia, and Poland.

The United States urges countries to adopt laws to protect intellectual property rights. China and Russia have adopted new patent, copyright, and trademark legislation during the past year. Taiwan has enacted new copyright and patent laws and is in the process of enacting new legislation on the protection of trademarks and trade secrets.

New Domestic Legislation

In 1992, Congress passed legislation designed to further strengthen protection of intellectual property rights embodied in sound recordings. The legislation requires that manufacturers or importers of digital audio recording devices and digital recording media pay a prescribed royalty on all such equipment or media manufactured or imported into the United States. The royalties collected by the Copyright Office will be distributed to sound recording producers, music copyright holders, and performers to compensate them for the copying of their recordings. The legislation also requires safeguards to prevent second generation copying of pre-recorded copyrighted sound recordings.

COPYRIGHT 1994 U.S. Government Printing Office

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