The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) published a number of documents in December assessing the intellectual property rights (IPR) policies and practices of U.S. trading partners.
The USTR is responsible for developing, negotiating, and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy. An important part of the USTR’s stated mission is to vigorously protect the interests of U.S. holders of IPRs, such as copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. The USITC administers U.S. trade remedy laws and provides the president, USTR, and Congress with independent analysis, information, and support on matters of tariffs, international trade, and U.S. competitiveness.
On Dec. 29, the USTR’s office published a notice seeking public comments on the IPR regimes of all U.S. trading partners. Section 182 of the Trade Act of 1974 requires the USTR to identify countries that have ineffective IPR protection or that deny fair and equitable market access to U.S. persons who rely on intellectual property protection. The provisions of Section 182 are commonly referred to as the “Special 301” provisions. The law requires the USTR to determine which, if any, of these countries to identify as Priority Foreign Countries. Such designations are rare, with Ukraine’s designation in 2013 being the sole one in the past 12 years. The comments being sought will inform the USTR's 2015 Special 301 Report, which will be published in late April.
The protection of IPR in India was a significant area of concern for both the USTR and USITC. On Dec. 15, the USTR released a statement on the conclusion of its two-month review of India’s IPR regime. That review was required as a result of India being placed on a Priority Watch List as part of the USTR’s 2014 “Special 301” report, which Congress requires the office to submit each year detailing the effectiveness of U.S. trading partners in protecting and enforcing IPR.
In November, the United States and India agreed to a 2015 work plan for resolving IPR issues of concern. Among other provisions, the two countries agreed to deepen cooperation on capacity-building for copyright protection and to share best legal practices to protect trade secrets. In its recent statement, the USTR stated that India has made “useful commitments” toward bolstering its IPR.
The USTR’s statement came just one week after the USITC released a report that identifies a range of Indian policies, including the treatment of intellectual property, which significantly depress U.S. exports to and investment in that country. The report contends that if tariff and investment restrictions were fully eliminated and standards of intellectual property protection were brought into line with those of the United States and Western Europe, U.S. investments in India would approximately double, while U.S. exports to India would rise by two-thirds.
The USITC's report was prepared at the direction of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and it examines the impact of Indian policies on a wide array of business sectors, including the pharmaceutical industry, information and communication technology, and e-commerce.
Late in December, the USTR also released its annual report to Congress on China’s compliance with World Trade Organization commitments. According to the report, China's IPR protection and enforcement regime continues to pose serious barriers to U.S. exports and investment. Theft of trade secrets is also a serious problem, and the report claims that offenders often continue to operate with impunity. In addition, widespread counterfeiting and online piracy are identified as problems that continue in China.