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Justice Report Highlights Progress In Intellectual Property Protection

The Justice Department two years ago promised to beef up efforts to protect the intellectual property of software development, music, and movies. Here's the result of its efforts.
The technology world has long agonized over the government's shortcomings in protecting intellectual property. Theft of source code or even finished products costs tech firms money and potential revenue and dampens the incentive to invest in original research and development. The U.S. Justice Department Tuesday plans to issue a report signaling a positive change.

The Justice Department's Intellectual Property Task Force has made progress in protecting the content created by companies in a number of disciplines, including software development, music recording, and motion pictures, the report says. Essentially, Justice wants to convince businesses that it has followed up on promises made in 2004 to bring the hammer down on those caught lifting other people's work for their own purposes.

The Justice Department, as promised, has increased the number of prosecutors in the field by creating five additional Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property, or CHIP, units in the District of Columbia, Nashville, Orlando, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Sacramento. Justice also opened another seven in Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Newark, N.J., New Haven, Conn., and Philadelphia--all cities where cybercrime and intellectual property offenses are significant problems, the new report states.

Justice has also broadened its focus internationally by placing a federal prosecutor in Southeast Asia as an intellectual property law-enforcement coordinator and got funding to place a similar official in Eastern Europe. The department has trained and provided technical help to more than 2,000 foreign prosecutors, investigators, and judges in the area of intellectual property investigations and prosecutions, the report states.

In March 2004, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft established the Intellectual Property Task Force, directing it to examine and suggest improvements to all the department's intellectual property enforcement efforts. By October 2004, the task force returned to Ashcroft with recommendations in the areas of criminal enforcement, international cooperation, civil enforcement, antitrust enforcement, legislation, and prevention. By the following February, Alberto Gonzalez had assumed attorney general responsibilities, appointed new task force members, and directed them to fully implement the 2004 report's recommendations.

The president's Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2005 is part of the plan. In partnership with the U.S. Patent Trademark Office, the Justice Department plans to dedicate $900,000 over three years for piracy prevention efforts with nonprofit educational organizations.

The Justice Department's progress report cites an Office of the U.S. Trade Representative statistic that intellectual property theft costs American corporations $250 billion each year. "Modern technology has increased the innovativeness of companies and the amount of new intellectual property being created, but it has also made intellectual property theft easier and more anonymous," the report states. "Computer technology and the Internet generate inexpensive and far-flung opportunities for piracy and distribution."

The Justice Department is, along with the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and the Food and Drug Administration, part of the Bush administration's Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy effort, or STOP, and has co-chaired the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council since its 1999 inception.

The FBI's intellectual property enforcement program has been increasingly busy in recent years. Between fiscal year 2003 and fiscal year 2005, the number of open intellectual property investigations increased 22%, from 304 to 372 investigations annually. The number of undercover investigations increased 87%. During the same time period, the number of indictments filed from intellectual property investigations increased 38%, from 92 to 127. Since 2001, Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection divisions have initiated more than 31,000 seizures of counterfeit products with an estimated retail value in excess of $482 million.

Impressive statistics, but as with any crackdown, the program's success will ultimately rely on a healthy dose of prevention. This has partly been addressed through a number of intellectual-property education programs for America's youth. One such program is called "Activate Your Mind: Protect Your Ideas" and consists of a series of educational events nationwide involving students, teachers, government representatives, and victims of intellectual property theft.