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Op-Ed: Intellectual Property Theft Is A Scourge On The U.S. Economy

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales details the widespread damage, as well as the steps the Department of Justice and other agencies have taken to crack down on the perpetrators.
Intellectual property theft is a serious problem that threatens our nation's economic security. America is the global leader in creativity and innovation; it is our competitive advantage in the world. Indeed, America's greatest export and the strength of our robust economy is the creative output of Americans - the labor of our imaginations. But the creative community - those who devote their energy and imagination to creating products that enrich our society - is besieged by intellectual property theft.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs - in industries as diverse as music and movies and software and pharmaceuticals - are dependent on the creation of intellectual property. The creation of intellectual property is what fuels our nation's economy, resulting in higher living standards for Americans. Our intellectual property system gives creators and innovators the incentive to invest their time and creativity into developing new products and services. When intellectual property rights are protected, then creators and innovators can reap the rewards of their investment.

Intellectual property theft is not only harmful to creators and innovators; it can harm consumers too. Many cheap counterfeit items manufactured abroad make their way to America and threaten the public's health and safety. Counterfeit batteries, auto parts, electrical cords, lamps, fire extinguishers, and other appliances enter the United States every day. These cheap items can malfunction, causing serious injury or even death. And it is not only the health and safety of Americans that is threatened. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 10 percent of the world's medicines are counterfeit.

To combat this rise in intellectual property theft, the Bush Administration has launched an aggressive, ambitious, and far-reaching law enforcement effort against intellectual property crimes and related civil misconduct. Through the Administration's Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP) initiative, the Department of Justice and eight other federal agencies have joined together to fight copyright piracy and stop counterfeit products from entering the country. At the Department of Justice, we created a Task Force on Intellectual Property to evaluate our efforts to protect intellectual property rights. In October 2004, that Task Force recommended 31 different things that the Department could do to enhance criminal, civil, and antitrust enforcement; international coordination; legislative efforts; and prevention programs.

This week, the Task Force announced that all 31 of the recommendations have been implemented. Our accomplishments include: (1) nearly doubling the number of criminal defendants charged with intellectual property crimes; (2) increasing the number of prosecutors assigned to intellectual property crimes; (3) deploying to Southeast Asia an Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordinator to assist with overseas investigations and prosecutions; (4) dismantling several international criminal organizations engaged in intellectual property theft; and (5) aggressively prosecuting intellectual property cases that threaten public health and safety. We also have helped victims of intellectual property theft understand how to report intellectual property crimes, and we have partnered with Court TV, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and several non-profit organizations, to develop an extensive educational program to promote respect for intellectual property rights.

The Department of Justice will continue to combat intellectual property theft in the courtroom and in the classroom. We will strive to protect intellectual property rights in America and around the world. Our nation's economic security, as well as the health and safety of Americans, deserves nothing less.