Intellectual Property and Risks to the Public

Hi, I am Victoria Espinel, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. I am honored to have been appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve in this new position created by Congress in the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008.  Given the unique nature of this job, I’d like to describe what I’m doing in my office and how we want to engage the public to get input on what we, as a government, should be doing.

While talking about our global competitive advantage at a recent town hall meeting in Ohio, the President said, “One of the problems that we have had is insufficient protection for intellectual property rights”–and it is important that our ideas are protected.  In December 2009, the Vice President, joined by Cabinet members and other senior government officials, held a roundtable discussion to emphasize the Administration’s commitment to enforcing laws against intellectual property theft.

Intellectual property are the ideas behind inventions, the artistry that goes into books and music, and the logos of companies whose brands we have come to trust.   My job is to help protect the ideas and creativity of the American public.  One of the reasons that I care about this is because I believe it is enormously important that the United States remain a global leader in these forms of innovation – and part of how we do that is by appropriately protecting our intellectual property.  Our intellectual property represents the hard work, creativity, resourcefulness, investment and ingenuity of the American public.  Infringement of intellectual property can hurt our economy and can undermine U.S. jobs.  Infringement also reduces our markets overseas and hurts our ability to export our products.  Counterfeit products can pose a significant threat to the health and safety of us all.  Imagine learning that the toothpaste you and your family have used for years contains a dangerous chemical.  U.S. Customs officials have seized several shipments of counterfeit toothpaste containing a dangerous amount of diethylene glycol, a chemical used in brake fluid, and that in sufficient doses is believed to cause kidney failure.  All of these are reasons why your government has renewed its efforts to challenge this illegal activity.

My job is to help coordinate the work of the federal agencies that are involved with stopping this illegal behavior.  We are going to work together to develop a strategy to reduce those risks to the public, the costs to our economy and to help protect the ingenuity and creativity of Americans.  We want to be able to reduce the number of infringing goods in the United States and abroad.  The examples are almost endless: counterfeit car parts, illegal software, pirated video games, knockoff consumer goods, dangerous counterfeit medicines, and many other types of products – including very sophisticated technology.  Our goal is to better use taxpayer dollars and other government resources to be more effective in reducing any threat to our economy and our safety.  

To further these goals, we are working to find ways of measuring these threats and their impact on us.  How many jobs depend on the existence of intellectual property?  What are the greatest risks to health and safety?  We need better data on these questions and it is part of my job to figure out what the answers are.  We cannot do that without your help.  So, my office is asking the public to give us information about the costs and the risks – and then give us suggestions for what we could be doing better as a government.   As a first step, we are issuing a notice to the public asking for your input.  Here’s a link to this request (pdf).  You can send your comments to intellectualproperty@omb.eop.gov.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Victoria Espinel is the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator

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