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The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (Pro-IP) Act

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill designed to protect intellectual property. The bill, called the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (Pro-IP) Act, provides federal officials with the necessary authority to confiscate any equipment being used in reproducing and distributing illegally copied materials as well as any materials obtained as the result of intellectual property theft. It would also establish a new post within the Executive Office, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative, who would serve as intellectual property czar. This person would be appointed to this position by the president.

Reactions to the announcement that this bill had passed the House varied greatly. Some individuals reacted with enthusiasm, saying that the problem of intellectual property theft has escalated greatly over the last few years, requiring not only strong legislation that helps protect intellectual property, but also a central entity charged with guiding and enforcing protection mechanisms and processes. Others were downright skeptical; they asserted that the copyright protection legislation that is currently in place has made very little if any difference in the amount of copyright violations that have occurred. Additionally, they pointed out that there are other czar positions within the U.S. government, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Cybersecurity Czar.” Without exception, whoever has served in this position has for a variety of reasons been ineffective. Critics were quick to point out that the same will almost certainly be true for whoever becomes the intellectual property czar (provided, of course, that the Pro-IP Act becomes law sometime in the future).

Intellectual property theft and leakage is without any doubt one of the worst risks that organizations currently face. We’ve read one story after another in which an employee of a company has copied intellectual property and then handed it over to a new employer. Worse yet, for every story in which the perpetrator has been caught and charged, I suspect that there are dozens of others in which someone has gotten away clean with an ex-employer’s proprietary information  and the person(s) in the new company to whom the information did not have a trace of remorse. Similarly, Web sites (usually poorly designed ones) have also been an increasingly frequent source of intellectual property leakage; information that should not be accessible by the public has too often become available to anyone who accessed a Web site. Corporations are losing untold amounts of money, and U.S. and U.K. government agencies are hardly faring better in fending off attacks launched by adversaries who are determined to steal sensitive information.

Will the Pro-IP make a dent in the intellectual property theft and leakage problem? My guess is that it will, but only marginally. The threat of having equipment used in stealing intellectual property is likely to serve as at least a mild deterrent to would-be-criminals. At the same time, however, a number of pieces of intellectual property protection legislation (such as the Economic Espionage Act) are already in place in the US. The addition of one piece of similar legislation is not likely to make much overall difference. Also, I strongly agree with skeptics who doubt whether having an intellectual property czar will do any good at all. Every government agency czar is inevitably quickly entangled in divisive intra-agency political battles and has to deal with insurmountable bureaucratic tie-ups. Establishing yet another intellectual property czar post would be tantamount to setting one government worker after another for failure. Ideally, then, the Pro-IP bill will eventually be watered down such that it no longer includes the provision for creating an intellectual property czar position. At any rate, I feel that it is better for this legislation to pass than to not pass, because at a minimum it would constitute another statute by which perpetrators of intellectual property could be charged and convicted.

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