A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to stop the theft of U.S. intellectual property by foreign governments, with a focus on China. The bill, titled the “Safeguarding American Innovation Act,” was introduced today by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), James Risch (R-ID), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Barrasso (R-WY), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
According to a press release, the bill includes provisions to:
- Punish individuals who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment for not more than five years or both and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant;
- Strengthen the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by requiring the State Department’s exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies;
- Strengthen the State Department’s authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States;
- Mandate a standardized U.S. government grant process by authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to standardize the grant application process; share information about grantees; and create a U.S. government-wide database of federal grantees; and
- Lower the reporting threshold for U.S. schools and universities receiving foreign gifts from $250,000 to $50,000 and giving the Department of Education authority to punish schools that fail to properly report.
Last year, a bipartisan report and subsequent hearing outlined how U.S. taxpayers have been unknowingly supporting China’s military and economic advancements via China’s so-called talent recruitment programs. An earlier report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that the U.S. Department of Education’s enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities was “historically lax.”
“American innovation is one of our country’s greatest assets, especially in times of crisis such as this,” said Tillis. “China has been clear: If America can invent it, they will try to steal it. I’m proud to help lead this effort to protect American universities from attempts to steal sensitive information by China and other foreign adversaries.”