The 10th anniversary of World IP Day on April 26 provides us an opportunity to recognize that protecting intellectual property rights is vital to America’s economic prospects — both here at home and in markets around the world. As the theme of this year’s celebration, “Innovation — Linking the World,” reflects, new and innovative technologies and creative advancements play a vital role in breaking down international borders and in creating and sustaining economic growth. Intellectual property is one of America’s greatest assets and its protection is central to our economic prosperity and security as well the public’s health and safety. Aggressive intellectual property law enforcement is crucial to our continued success and safety, and is a top priority of the Department of Justice.
Businesses that create and rely upon intellectual property, from large entertainment conglomerates to small biotech firms, make up among the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. These industries also represent a significant portion of U.S. exports, with intellectual property now comprising a significant — and growing — share of the value of world trade. The proliferation of worldwide Internet access and advances in traditional distribution methods, such as transportation and shipping, now allow American businesses of all sizes to market their intellectual property throughout the world. Digital content, whether embodied in software, books, games, movies or music, can be transmitted from one corner of the world to another almost instantly.
But these unprecedented opportunities for American businesses and entrepreneurs are put at risk by criminals and criminal organizations that seek unlawfully to profit by stealing from the hard work of American artists, authors and inventors. For every new technological advancement by American business, there is, unfortunately, a criminal who would seek to misuse it for his own illicit purposes. Criminals are responding to American innovation with their own creative methods of committing intellectual property crimes — from widespread online piracy to well-funded corporate espionage to increased trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals and other goods.
When we fail to enforce intellectual property rights aggressively, we fail to protect some of our nation’s most important and valuable resources. The theft of even a single trade secret can completely destroy a burgeoning small business. When criminals sell counterfeit drugs and medical devices to consumers, our nation’s public health is compromised. And when illicit products such as counterfeit airplane parts or pirated electronic components make their way into the marketplace, they place our public safety at risk.
In light of these threats, it is imperative that the government act, and act aggressively. And that is exactly what we at the Department of Justice are doing. In cooperation with our partners across the federal government, the Department of Justice has redoubled its commitment to protecting American innovation and technology through aggressive criminal and civil enforcement of our nation’s intellectual property laws.
Earlier this year, the attorney general announced the formation of a new Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, which I chair, to address the growing threat from intellectual property theft. This task force and its members are working closely with the administration’s Office of the Intellectual Property Coordinator to help develop and implement the administration’s strategic plan on intellectual property enforcement. The task force is working to develop innovative new approaches to tackle some of the most critical aspects of intellectual property law enforcement, from how to work with our international counterparts more effectively to attack the global nature of intellectual property theft; to ways in which we can work even more closely with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to ensure that we have a coordinated and comprehensive response to domestic crimes; to creative ideas to educate the public about the importance of intellectual property protections.
The Department of Justice announced on April 26 the creation of 15 new assistant U.S. attorney positions to combat intellectual property crime. These new positions will be part of the Department’s Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property program, which includes a network of more than 200 specially trained federal prosecutors who aggressively pursue high-tech crime, including computer crime and intellectual property offenses, and who work closely with the Criminal Division’s computer crime and intellectual property section. The new positions will be located in California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
In addition to the federal prosecutors, the Department announced on April 26 the creation of 20 new FBI special-agent positions dedicated to combating domestic and international IP crimes. These agents will be deployed to specifically augment four geographic areas with intellectual property squads and increase investigative capacity in other areas where IP crimes are of particular concern. These agents will join the 31 agents that have already been deployed to field offices around the country devoted to investigating IP crimes. The agents will allow for more focused efforts in particular hot spots and increased contact and coordination with our state and local law enforcement partners.
And just last month, the Department solicited applications for grant funding under the Department’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Program, which is administered by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and its Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Under this program, OJP/BJA will award $4 million in competitive grants to fund state, local and tribal criminal investigations, prosecutions, and prevention and education efforts related to intellectual property enforcement. Applications for funding under the program are due by May 18.
Intellectual property law enforcement is central to protecting our nation’s ability to remain at the forefront of technological advancement, business development and job creation. We all play a part in ensuring that American innovation and creativity can be fairly and freely marketed throughout the world. For the Department of Justice, this also means protecting the public welfare and safety through robust intellectual property enforcement. The Department, along with its federal partners throughout the administration, will remain ever vigilant in this pursuit as American entrepreneurs and businesses continue to develop, innovate and create the foundation for our economic future.
Gary G. Grindler is the acting deputy attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice.