On Tuesday, the US IP Enforcement Coordinator made a request to the public for input on how IP enforcement should work in the current administration. After the business with ACTA, and yesterday the IIPA, this could be a great opportunity for our American readers to voice their concerns tot he Obama administration.
Victoria Espinel was appointed as Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator in September 2009, a position created by the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008. It’s Espinel’s job to “help protect the ideas and creativity of the American public”, as she herself puts it.
During a town hall discussion in Ohio, President Obama touched upon the concept of intellectual property rights following a question from the audience. The question came from an inventor, holder of patent 7,397,731, and his question was a valid one: he wanted to know how the US government was going to make it easier for inventors to secure worldwide patents. He argued that with trade barriers being taken down, it becomes ever harder to secure worldwide patents rights, and that he’s forced to go overseas to fight infringement.
“Our competitive advantage in the world is going to be people like this who are using their minds to create new products, new services,” President Obama said, “But that only helps us and helps you build a multibillion-dollar company if somebody can’t just steal that idea and suddenly start making it in Indonesia or Malaysia or Bangladesh with very cheap workers.”
“And one of the problems that we have had is insufficient protection for intellectual property rights,” he continued, “That’s true in China; it’s true for everything from bootleg DVDs to very sophisticated software. And there’s nothing wrong with other people using our technologies. We just want to make sure that it’s licensed and you’re getting paid.”
The problem, of course, is that the US Patent and Trademark Office has a history of accepting even the most ridiculous patents – including software patents which are almost universally despised throughout the software world. This leads to situations where patents are no longer used to protect, but to attack; we all know the patent trolls whose sole business model is to secure obscure patents only to sue other companies. More often than not, patents have little to do with protecting innovation.
Both Obama and Espinel seem to overlook this fact. They hammer on the enforcement side of things, (seemingly) without acknowledging that there’s a fundamental problem within the USPTO itself. “Our intellectual property represents the hard work, creativity, resourcefulness, investment and ingenuity of the American public,” Espinel writes, “Infringement of intellectual property can hurt our economy and can undermine U.S. jobs. Infringement also reduces our markets overseas and hurts our ability to export our products. Counterfeit products can pose a significant threat to the health and safety of us all.”
Apart from the US patent system needing a serious foot up the bum, I fully agree with Espinel that large-scale IP infringement needs to be combated. Large-scale infringement is what is truly hurting the industry – not grandma downloading a few songs off the internet. Yet, if you listen to the RIAA and MPAA, you’d be pardoned for believing grandma poses a bigger threat to the “hard work, creativity, resourcefulness, investment and ingenuity of the American public” than large-scale infringement.
So, you can take this opportunity to point out the above (that is, if you agree with it, obviously) to Espinel. This may be your best opportunity to voice your thoughts on FOSS and Copyright law and how things like ACTA may affect you or your business. You can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.