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When the United States began high-stakes talks with China over intellectual property and trade barrier disputes last month, private attorneys representing an alliance of hundreds of companies had already been working nearly two years helping the government build its case. Formal dispute settlement talks began in Geneva on June 4. The negotiation, mediated by the World Trade Organization, lasts at least 60 days. If the dispute isn’t resolved, the complaining government — in this case, the United States — can ask the WTO to appoint a panel to weigh the matter. The panel’s report becomes a ruling unless all WTO members reject it by consensus. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative notes that the panel process can last up to 18 months. In preparing such cases, private lawyers frequently act as the trade representative’s informal research team, says Eric Smith of D.C.’s Smith, Strong & Schlesinger, a copyright law boutique. The trade representative “can’t do all the legal work, so they rely on the industry’s law firms to help them,” explains Smith, adding, “They make all their own decisions. We’re helpmates.” Smith, Strong, along with D.C.-based lawyers at Greenberg Traurig, represents the China Copyright Alliance, formed in 2005 to press the government to bring a WTO case. The alliance consists of six trade groups: the Art Copyright Coalition, the Association of American Publishers, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America. �WORKING IN CONCERT’ The United States is seeking better enforcement of China’s copyright and trademark laws and lower trade barriers for books, music, videos, and movies. Besides gathering information about violations in China, the alliance’s lawyers have worked closely with the trade representative for more than a year to prepare the case, says James Bacchus, who chairs Greenberg Traurig’s global trade practice. They have helped identify potential claims, assemble evidence, and frame arguments, he says. “We’re working in concert with the government and responding to the government’s requests,” Bacchus says. “We’re supporting them.” The United States claims that China is violating the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights by not affording copyright protection to imported works waiting for approval to enter China. The United States also claims that China allows seized infringing goods back into the channels of commerce and does not criminally prosecute pirates who possess fewer than 500 infringing items. On behalf of their clients, Bacchus and his team have worked to decipher China’s complex regulations governing distribution and trading rights. “The Chinese government is not quite as transparent as ours,” says Bacchus. After information gathering and legal analysis came lobbying. The alliance’s 2006 lobbying fees totaled $280,000 for Greenberg Traurig and $180,000 for Smith, Strong, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But Bacchus describes his firm’s relationship with the government as more symbiotic. “As a practical matter, we’re working side by side with U.S. lawyers in preparing these cases,” he says. The trade representative conducts its own research and analysis, says spokesman Stephen Norton, but the office “welcomes the input from legal counsel representing private interests.” Despite those hefty lobbying fees, most of their work is directly for the alliance, note Bacchus and Smith.
Sheri Qualters is the Boston bureau chief for The National Law Journal , an ALM publication where this article first ran in.

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