Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in the Global Economy

Notes for Mr. Fleming's Social Studies class

  1. Basic concepts: intellectual property and exclusive rights

    Consider Alice's patent for a bucket, and Bob's patent for an improved bucket with a handle. Does Bob have a right to make buckets with handles?

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  2. Help for U.S. Companies doing business abroad

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, part of the Department of Commerce, "helps provide American intellectual property owners with knowledge and legal tools to fight piracy and counterfeiting both at home and abroad, and assist them in their enforcement efforts overseas." It often partners with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in this effort. One particular duty of the USTR is the production of the "'Special 301' Report, reviewing global developments on trade and intellectual property (IP) and identifying trading partners with harmful records on protection, enforcement, or market access for U.S."

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  3. International Treaties

    Protection of intellectual property may vary from one country to the next. To facilitate global trade, various treaties have been entered into that establish uniformity of IP rights and their enforcement. The World Trade Organization began in 1995 and includes 164 member nations. It seeks to lower tarrifs and other trade barriers and to guide the resolution of trade disputes among its members. Beyond the basic principle of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), that members not to discriminate against one another, specific protection for IP rights is based on "the main international agreements of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that already existed before the WTO was created." These are the Paris Convention, covering patents, and the Berne Convention, covering copyrights. Most WTO members are also signatories to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

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  4. More about the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Berne Convention

    Both the Paris Convention and the PCT allow inventors to file a patent application in their home country to establish a "priority" date, which is when they are deemed to first made their invention. Note, to get a patent, you must be the first person to invent the thing you're patenting. Under the Paris Convention, the inventor then has 12 months to file applications in whatever other countries she chooses. An applicant under the PCT essentially files in all the PCT signatory countries simultaneously.

    The Berne Convention has been in effect for well over 100 years, but the U.S. did not become a signatory until 1988. One of the main sticking points for U.S. signing on was the recognition of "moral rights" of authors. While in the early years of its copyright law, the U.S. only protected works of citizens or residents, there has always been a broad interpretation of fair use exceptions. Parody works are, for example, more readily allowed under U.S. law. With the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, derisively known as the Mickey Mouse Copyright Term Extension Act, the U.S. extended the term of copyrights beyond the requirements of the Berne Convention.

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  5. IP Protection under the Trans Pacific Partnership: Opposing Views

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have opposing opinions about the proposed IP provisions of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). One of the concerns of the EFF is that stricter laws banning circumvention of Digital Rights Management (DRM) mechanisms would allow sellers of many products with software controlled features to block competition. The EFF also worries that vague language relating to trade secrets and fair use could create threats for journalists and whistle-blowers and invite lawsuits by the content industry. The Chamber of Commerce favors greater IP protection, pointing to data showing that countries with greater protection are more competitive.

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  6. DRM Fiascos

    Imagine you lived in the Dark Ages, before video streaming, when movies were distributed on DVDs. Imagine further that you visited another country and bought a copy of a movie you saw there so you could watch it again back home with friends, but when you tried playing it on your DVD player, it didn't work. I've done that. Movie distributors used Region Codes to prevent people in a region where a film has not yet been released from buying DVDs from the region where the film was first released. At least this scheme was publicly known, albeit not by me when I purchased copies of Tora-san movies in Japan. The Sony Root Kit was basically malware that was surreptitiously installed on your computer if you used it to play a Sony CD, and prevented you from copying CDs. It was hidden deep inside the operating system, undetectable by most anti-virus software, and also made you computer susceptible to other malware. When it was finally discovered by a security researcher, it was a huge embarrassment for Sony

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  7. Recent IP cases in China and Taiwan

    U.S. tech firms operating in countries that are home to competing firms may be especially vulnerable to lax IP enforcement. Treaties can only go so far in leveling the playing field.

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  8. Supply Chains, Trade Barriers and Security

    Whether or not fears are well-founded or just an excuse, electronic devices assembled from parts made in many different countries may be subject to restrictions based on security concerns.

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