Earlier this month, the USTR released this year's Special 301 report. The report is prepared and released annually, identifying trade barriers to U.S. companies doing business in another country because of a lack of "adequate and effective" intellectual property laws, that is, laws, or the lack thereof, that result in inappropriate protection for intellectual property rights.
As a general proposition, this year's report was no surprise. The list of violators, of those who need to step up their efforts (to say the least), is fairly predictable.
China: "USTR reports grave concerns about misappropriation of trade secrets in China, and incremental progress on a few of China’s many other significant IPR and market access challenges"
Former Russia state, Ukraine: "USTR designates Ukraine a Priority Foreign Country (PFC) under the Special 301 statute due to severe deterioration of enforcement in the areas of government use of pirated software and piracy over the Internet, as well as denial of fair and equitable market access through the authorization and operation of copyright collecting societies"
Russia: Still dominant in peer to peer piracy, "Russia remains on the Priority Watch List in 2013 as a result of continued significant challenges to IPR protection, notably inadequate enforcement against the growing problem of online piracy."
Others are named as well, but these tend to be the countries that catch the attention of the public.
So, if the violators are fairly predictable before the report is released, what is the big deal? The answer to that is easy.
The Special 301 report serves as an important tool for identifying and organizing the global challenges but also is a critical tool in the fight against organized piracy. As I have noted in other posts, there are basically two groups who steal intellectual property. The first is a group typified by the person who really does not know they are doing anything wrong, or knowing it is do not engage in stealing broadly. The second group is worse, organized criminal behavior often sponsored by nation states or by organized crime. Calling out those countries that are a problem helps to focus the mind on this second, malicious group.
In turn then, the report provides some direction for growing U.S. intellectual property based exports, and thereby growing our economy. Acknowledging and identifying the problem is always the first step to improving.