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United States - Espinel must heed brand owners' call for cooperation

By Adam Smith
March 30 2010

Victoria Espinel has set to work on her colossal task of better coordinating IP enforcement across US government departments, with key stakeholders demanding increased government transparency and closer cooperation between agencies and industry.

Brand owners are naturally in favour of Espinel's approach in designing a Joint Strategic Plan, as poor coordination on IP enforcement matters has long plagued industry's efforts to tackle counterfeiting and piracy. But the question as to whether a robust plan can be drawn up and then implemented remains.

"The creation of the Joint Strategic Plan is undoubtedly Espinel’s primary focus right now," Rob Calia, director of counterfeiting and piracy at the Global IP Centre, an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, told WTR. "I expect that she is spending a lot of her time engaging her colleagues throughout the US government and private sector stakeholders to understand the landscape and how her office can facilitate better IP enforcement."

Espinel launched the Joint Strategic Plan late last month (see "US efforts to create a national IP enforcement strategy stepped up") when she called on the White House blog for submissions from the public and stakeholders. Calia described the move as "an important step in facilitating greater communication and cooperation between government and industry".

Espinel's announcement has yielded high-profile submissions, such as that of the International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition (IACC). The industry body argued that the "single greatest policy priority" of its members (from adidas to Unilever) concerns information on goods detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on suspicion of being counterfeit. According to IACC members, in its interpretation of the Trade Secrets Act, CBP has adopted a policy that poses a serious threat to rights holders and consumers. Under the new policy, CBP officials remove the very markings that rights holders need to identify whether or not a suspected item is counterfeit.

"The IACC supports a comprehensive review of th[is] and other Executive Branch policies to ensure that open communication and cooperation between rights holders and government personnel tasked with enforcement is not unduly burdened,” argued the industry body. Calia picked up on this call, telling WTR: "We encourage Espinel to work closely with Congress, CBP and rights holders to identify and implement a solution as quickly as possible."

Espinel's efforts to consult with stakeholders is surely to be applauded: it signals a positive approach from government to address the lack of information sharing that has plagued anti-counterfeiting for years. However, I have so far been unsuccessful in my attempt to speak with Espinel about her plans. Hopefully she will open up soon.

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