The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is calling for public comments to point out foreign governments that have not lived up to their obligations to protect U.S. intellectual property rights.
According to the USTR's request for written submissions in the Federal Register, the "Special 301" provisions of the Trade Act of 1974 mandate that the USTR "identify countries that deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights or deny fair and equitable market access to U.S. persons who rely on intellectual property protection."
By opening up that process to the public, the USTR hopes to receive a fuller picture of which countries are not holding up their end of the bargain on intellectual property protection.
"The Special 301 process pinpoints key challenges for U.S. intellectual property-based businesses from piracy, counterfeiting, and other forms of IPR theft," said Ambassador Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, in a statement. "To help stem these losses, the Obama Administration has made improvements to Special 301 designed to focus on these threats to America's innovation and creativity - two of our greatest strengths in the global economy."
Countries identified as poor on intellectual property protection could be designated "Priority Foreign Countries"—"those countries whose acts, policies or practices are 'the most onerous or egregious' and have the greatest adverse impact on relevant U.S. products, and that have not entered into, or are not making significant progress in, negotiations to provide adequate and effective IPR protection," according to a U.S. Commerce factsheet.
Countries the USTR designates as Priority Foreign Countries could have U.S. trade sanctions imposed upon them after a full investigation has been completed, which includes consultations with the accused government . Trading partners that fall short of being labeled priority foreign countries could still be placed on a "Priority Watch List" or "Watch List" if their intellectual property laws or enforcement mechanisms do not meet U.S. approval. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List will receive increased U.S. "attention concerning the problem areas," according to the USTR in the Federal Register.
By April 30 of every year, the USTR is mandated to publish a report identifying problem countries. Interested U.S. persons wishing to submit written comments to USTR should do so by Feb. 16. A public hearing will be held on March 3 in the run up to the publication of USTR's 2010 Special 301 Report. Foreign governments must submit written comments or requests to testify at the public hearing by Feb. 23.
Last year, the USTR investigated 77 U.S. trading partners for the Special 301 Report, resulting in 45 placed on either the Priority Watch List or the Watch List.
(For more on U.S. efforts to protect intellectual property rights, read Assistant Editor Stephanie Berrong's story, "Protecting Intellectual Property Worldwide," in this month's issue of Security Management.)
♦ Screenshot of USTR request for written submissions