Intellectual property rights are one of those intangible protections that add immense value to the US economy, especially in the area of US trade. Innovation is one of America’s greatest comparative advantages in trade, as evidenced by the 74% of exports ($1 trillion) that come from IP-intensive industries. Unfortunately, this comparative advantage can be eroded through violations of US companies’ intellectual property rights (IPR). Companies’ IPR can be violated in several ways, including piracy, hacking, and unfair regulatory requirements. Overall, counterfeit products and other IPR violations account for $360 billion in losses in international trade annually.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) must take steps to protect their intellectual property including patents, trademarks, logos, inventions and ideas before they export their products overseas. In addition, SMEs should protect their IPR prior to participating in tradeshows where overseas customers and competitors may have greater exposure to your IP. While large multinationals have significant resources to throw at IP protection, SMEs do not.
However, SMEs should not be intimidated by this as there are several resources they can use to protect themselves. The first step for an SME is to be aware of the intellectual property that it has which needs protection. To facilitate this, the US Government’s stopfakes.gov website has some great resources, including an IP audit that helps companies identify IP they need to protect and that also helps them do it. The US Patent and Trademark Office’s website also has some resources for SMEs listed by state, including pro bono consultation with IP lawyers in some states. The US PTO also offers in-person consultations with its IP attachés at US Embassies which can be arranged during overseas trips to potential customers or distributors.
The next step is to research the types of problems that your company might face in individual countries. Once again, stopfakes.gov provides several tools to help you, including webinar series and country-specific toolkits. Additionally, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) publishes an annual report, called the Special 301 Report, which reports on especially egregious IPR violators. The 2012 version can be found here.
If after exporting your product, your business encounters IPR violations you can report the problem to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at the IPR Center Hotline (1-866-IPR-2060 or 1-866-477-2060) or via email at IPRCenter@dhs.gov. You can also access other resources, including “Protecting Intellectual Property Rights Abroad” on the US Government’s export.gov website.
While these resources may help SMEs protect their businesses in the short-term, the US Government is also looking for more permanent solutions in the long-term. Currently, the US is working with other countries to enforce IPR laws that already exist in those countries. Additionally, US free trade agreements with other countries now include a chapter on intellectual property rights, making it easier for the US to identify and negotiate resolutions to IPR violations. Private companies continue to play an advocacy role, as well. For example, the US-Brazil Business Council organized the US-Brazil CEO Forum in 2007 to help produce more business opportunities and to also solve barriers to US exports, like IPR violations.
List of IPR Resources:
If you have an IPR question that cannot be answered by these resources, TradeMoves is here to help. Feel free to email or call for more information.
Lori Hammer / LHammer@TradeMoves.net
Shawn Marie Jarosz / SJarosz@TradeMoves.net / 202.415.401