Questions for USTR Nominee Ron Kirk

Mar 9, 2009

This afternoon the Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony from former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, President Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Nearly two months into the administration, we are pleased to see movement on one of the most vital positions for intellectual property (IP) protection, promotion and enforcement.  Trade in general, and IP rights in particular, can play a major role in the nation’s economic recovery.

As the next USTR, Ron Kirk would face a number of important IP issues, including the advancement of trade agreements with strong global IP protections and improving the Special 301 process to better address countries that fail to live up to their international IP obligations.  America’s creative industries also need his leadership in defending the current global IP system, which has been under attack by its detractors.  The Chamber looks forward to working with Ron Kirk on these and other issues in defense of innovation at home and abroad.

In advance of Kirk’s hearing, the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center offers a primer below on some of the key IP-related issues he will oversee.  It is our sincere hope that Mr. Kirk will use this opportunity to provide concrete ideas and commitments about the administration’s plans to protect and enforce the rights of inventors, artists and authors, and to help keep us on the path toward recovery and innovation.

IP Protections in Free Trade Agreements

Will you ensure that strong and enforceable IP protections, such as those in the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), are included in future FTAs?  How will the USTR ensure that the IP rights provisions of current FTAs are enforced?

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

In 2007, former USTR Susan Schwab began negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with such top trading partners as Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and Switzerland. We believe the ACTA has real potential to improve the protection and enforcement of IP rights in major markets around the world.

Are you committed to continuing ACTA negotiations with the final goal of completing an ambitious, comprehensive and enforceable agreement?

Defending and Strengthening International IP Laws and Norms

America’s economy and competitiveness rely on our ability to lead the world in innovation and creativity. Yet, the IP system that protects ideas and incentivizes research and development investments is under attack in such multilateral forums as the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

What steps will the Office of the USTR take to ensure that international IP laws and norms are defended and strengthened?

Holding Trading Partners Accountable

One of the USTR’s most important functions is to hold trading partners accountable for not living up to their international obligations to protect and enforce IP rights.  Accordingly, the USTR has taken a proactive role in encouraging such countries to address rampant counterfeiting and piracy within their borders. 

More recently, some nations have abused IP-related provisions of international agreements, leading to the expropriation of U.S. intellectual property through compulsory licensing.  Some believe this practice may also soon be employed by countries who wish to weaken U.S. patent rights related to emerging "green technologies" to address climate change.  China, for instance, has already alluded to this possibility.

As USTR, what efforts will you undertake to prevent the abuse of compulsory licenses and dissuade countries from pursuing similar policies?

Digital Theft

Online piracy has an adverse effect on the business models of the U.S. copyright industry.  This creative industry places the highest priority on securing both the legal and practical tools necessary to protect IP rights in the digital age and to foster innovative business models online.

As USTR, how will you encourage responsible conduct on the part of all parties involved in the transmission of copyright materials, while fostering cooperation at all levels of the Internet distribution chain?

In the final analysis, these are important issues that have a direct bearing on jobs, economic growth and our ability to find solutions to global problems.  If IP rights are not protected, let alone promoted, the incentive-based system that has encouraged innovation for centuries will suffer.

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