House panel behind bill to bolster IP protection

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill designed to consolidate and strengthen the federal government's ability to fight intellectual property piracy by establishing a White House IP czar.

The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property, or "PRO IP," Act of 2007 is being pushed by leaders of the House Judiciary Committee and has become a top priority of a broad sector of industry and labor groups that have felt the piracy pinch in everything from bogus brake linings to counterfeit DVDs.

"This legislation is an important and necessary step in the fight to maintain our competitive edge in a global marketplace," Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, said Wednesday. "By providing additional resources for enforcement of intellectual property, we ensure that innovation and creativity will continue to prosper in our society."

It is estimated that the worldwide economic cost of counterfeiting and piracy runs from $500 billion-$600 billion a year in lost sales and accounts for about 5%-7% of global trade. According to estimates, it costs the U.S. $200 billion-$250 billion a year in lost sales, including 750,000 jobs.

"Intellectual property is not just the product of rock stars and movie stars," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "It accounts for more than 11 million American jobs and is a driving force in our economy."

That doesn't mean that the impact on the entertainment industry is minimal. MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman estimates that film theft costs foreign and domestic distributors, retailers and others $18 billion a year, not to mention the loss of more than 100,000 American jobs.

"I believe that the American business community can speak in one voice today in support of these legislative efforts to protect intellectual property," Glickman said. "From counterfeit medicine and fake automobile parts to pirated movies and knockoff handbags, the ill effects of intellectual property theft are felt across many sectors of the U.S. economy."

The PRO IP bill proposes to:

Strengthen the substantive civil and criminal laws relating to copyright and trademark infringement.

Establish the Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative, in the Executive Office of the President, to enhance nationwide and international coordination of intellectual property enforcement efforts.

Establish intellectual property officers to work with foreign countries in their efforts to combat counterfeiting and piracy.

Authorize the creation of a permanent Intellectual Property Division within the Department of Justice.

Rick Cotton, NBC Universal executive vp and general counsel and chairman of the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, said the steps proposed in the bill are necessary.

"If we are to turn the tide, we must significantly step up our effort to protect intellectual property on many fronts," he said. "The bold mandate in this legislation for high-level executive leadership … will dramatically advance the cause of protecting U.S. innovation, technological invention and creativity."
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