Victoria Espinel, White House IP Enforcement Coordinator
Counterfeiting is an enormous problem for businesses all over the world. Counterfeiters rip off name brand products, making cheap knock-offs, easily (and conservatively) costing many hundreds of millions of dollars each year. According to the International Quality & Productivity Center: “The counterfeit and gray market luxury goods trade is so big that experts estimate it to be anywhere from $300 – $600 billion globally.”
There are always those who will dispute whatever estimates are made about the level of counterfeiting present in the global marketplace, and $300 to $600 billion does seem quite high. The trouble with those who challenge the estimates is that they have absolutely no proof of their own, just suspicions. Those who claim to have proof only engage in the totally disingenuous charade of pretending that a $10 name brand product sold for $1 is properly characterized as a $1 loss because that was what the counterfeit consumer paid. Such intellectually dishonest and near deceitful conclusions do nothing other than excuse criminal activity and ignore the obvious. When someone purchases a knock-off for $1 there is no need for that person to spend $10 for the name brand product. Calling this a $1 loss makes taking anything the counterfeit apologists say almost impossible to take seriously.
You hear a lot these days about the need to protect Intellectual Property and capture innovation, but you don’t hear much about the traditional expense involved. There’s a reason for that: given the constantly evolving, “wild west” nature of today’s technical frontier, it is often prohibitively expensive for the little guy to cover all the bases and keep up with all the changes. Small businesses have had few options for affordable, comprehensive preparedness on the IP front, and in the wake of the recession, you’re likely to hear a lot more about the need to cut legal spending than you are about performing more audits and hiring more lawyers.
Companies are beginning to tackle this paradox by practicing the word on the lips of everyone from David Kappos (Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO) to Robert L. Stoll (Commissioner for Patents, USPTO), to business leaders, to even President Obama – innovation. But what good is innovation in and of itself? The innovation our leaders want demands adequate protections in place to turn those promising innovations into business assets.
President Obama announces of new Commerce Secretary. Secretary Gary Locke (left) and Secretary Designate John Bryson (right).
Earlier today President Obama announced the nomination of John Bryson as the next Secretary of Commerce. Bryson, the former CEO of Edison International and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, will replace current Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke who has been tapped as the next United States Ambassador to China. Meanwhile, earlier in the day Secretary Locke continued to work patent reform, sending letters to Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, which set forth the Administration’s position on patent reform.
Notably, but not surprisingly, Secretary Locke explained: “The Administration continues to strongly support the bipartisan efforts of Congress to enact patent reform legislation that will accelerate innovation, and create new jobs, new industries and new economic opportunities for Americans.” Secretary Locke went on to elaborate more specifically about some of the specific provisions of the America Invent’s Act, explaining the Obama Administration supports first to file provisions, supports giving the Patent and Trademark Office the ability to set fees and keep the fees collected to be used to run the agency, supports post grant review and supports allowing individuals to submit prior art references to patent examiners. Unfortunately, however, Secretary Locke explained that the Administration generally supports prior user rights given that it is, on balance, a good policy. I respectfully dissent!
On March 7, 2011, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with the United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Later in the day word began to leak that President Barack Obama was planning on announcing that he would appoint Locke to be the next United States Ambassador to China. ABC News first broke the story that President Obama would nominate Secretary Locke to become Ambassador to China after the close of business on March 7, 2011, and President Obama followed suit and later that week did announce that Locke would become the next Ambassador to China. Little has been said since that time about Locke moving on to become Ambassador to China, and less even still has been said about who will replace Secretary Locke once he leaves the Department of Commerce.
Those who live inside the beltway know that rumors swirl left and right, and it is sometimes extremely difficult to cut through the rumor-mill, which sometimes seems more like a “wishful thinking mill” than a true rumor-mill. Notwithstanding, there is one name that I have heard from multiple sources as likely to become the next Secretary of Commerce — Ambassador Ron Kirk.
Because of sufficient funding not linked to the current fiscal year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will remain open for business and will continue to operate as usual through the close of business on Monday, April 18, 2011 even in the event of a government shutdown. The USPTO has enough reserves to operate for 6 business days even in the event of a government shutdown, and should a shutdown occur and continue longer than 6 days the USPTO anticipates that limited staff would still be able to continue to work to accept new electronic applications and maintain IT infrastructure, among other functions. Thus, USPTO employees are not in any immediate risk of a furlough due to the ongoing fiscal year 2011 budget battle being waged between Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
As part of the White House’s Startup America initiative, on April 6, 2011, senior Obama Administration officials will visit St. Paul, Minnesota to meet with entrepreneurs and hear directly from them on ideas and suggestions for reducing barriers and improving regulations to build a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Using the input from the roundtables and broader public participation, the Obama Administration hopes to put together a list of the best ideas to streamline and simplify unnecessary barriers to America’s entrepreneurs and innovators. The Administration says these ideas will be incorporated into the agencies’ responses to the President’s Executive Order instructing federal agencies to identify and take steps to eliminate or reduce regulations that are outdated or overly burdensome to entrepreneurs.
At least initially, President Obama was keenly interested in exploring how the United States government could use open source software rather than rely on proprietary software. President Obama was so interested in pursuing open source software solutions that on his second day in Office he asked Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, to lead his open source charge. In fact, President Obama reportedly asked McNealy to prepare a report on how the federal government could employ open source software, but as yet, some 26 months later there has been no mention of the report or across the board government adoption of open source software.
Open source advocates praised the fact that President Obama wanted to transition the U.S. government away from proprietary solutions and into open source, but now that the report has seemingly stalled and the White House has done little more than release open source Drupal code, what does the open source community have to show?
Earlier today President Barack Obama held a press conference where he addressed the nation on the rapid increase in gas prices caused most immediately by unrest in Northern Africa and more generally as a result of the world slowly emerging from the Great Recession. After detailing a number of efforts to boost domestic oil production, including encouraging companies to pursue leased lands that are idle and possible new development efforts onshore and off-shore in Alaska, the President explained, “All of these actions can increase domestic oil production in the short and medium term, but let’s be clear: it is not a long term solution. Even if we started drilling new wells tomorrow, that oil isn’t coming online over night. Even if we tap every single reserve available to us we can’t escape the fact that we only control 2% of the world’s oil, but we consume over a quarter of the world’s oil.” President Obama even quoted T. Boone Pickens,saying: “This is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.”
Last week Renee Quinn attended a program about social media at Akin Gump in Washington, D.C. Someone from House Speaker John Boehner’s office was in attendance and Renee had an opportunity to do a bit of networking. The topic turned to the subject of an interview, and an offer was made to attempt to facilitate an interview with a Member of Congress on issues relating to patents and innovation.
Learning of the offer to coordinate an interview I asked Renee to attempt to secure an interview with Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Congressman Chaffetz is one of only two Members of Congress on both the House Budget Committee and the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, which is a subset of the House Judiciary Committee. These two Committee assignments make Congressman Chaffetz the perfect person to speak with regarding patents, innovation and the Patent Office budget.
Staffers worked with us to coordinate the interview with Congressman Chaffetz, which took place earlier today. I was told I would have 15 minutes with the Congressman, and graciously he allowed the interview to go a little long. We talked about the President’s States of the Union address, patent reform, the USPTO budget, innovation generally, manufacturing, job creation, China and more. I think many will find what Congressman Chaffetz has to say quite interesting and very encouraging. I myself found him to be well informed and refreshingly candid.
President Obama delivers his weekly address on Feb. 5, 2011
In his February 5th radio address, President Obama noted that “If we make America the best place to do business, businesses should … set up shop here, and hire our workers, and pay decent wages, and invest in the future of this nation. That’s their obligation.”
I agree. But government has an obligation, too. Is it doing all it can to truly make America the best place to do business?
Consider Evergreen Solar, which until last month was one of America’s largest solar panel makers. On January 14th, it shut down its Massachusetts factory and sent 800 jobs to China. This leaves only Silicon Valley’s Solyndra making solar panels in the U.S., and it just shut down one of its two production facilities.