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Pirated and counterfeit products are entering the United States at an alarming rate. Here is information about a program working to stop it.

by Sebastian Wright

Are you certain that the toothpaste you used this morning was really the brand-name product you thought it was? Did you buy it from a reputable source? Did you carefully inspect the label to make sure you were buying what you thought you were?

Pirated and counterfeit products are entering the U.S. market at an alarming rate. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that the number of seizures of counterfeit and fake products at our borders more than doubled from 2000 to 2004. Those fake products can endanger our health and safety, as well as adversely affect U.S. businesses by threatening innovation and workers’ livelihoods.

The Challenges of Intellectual Privacy Rights “Theft”

As the United States moves into the 21st century and continues to leverage its knowledge economy, our economic prosperity depends more and more on the benefits derived from our intellectual property. Meanwhile, the counterfeiters are working harder and getting better at making fake goods and moving them around the world to unsuspecting consumers.

Faced with these challenges, the federal government is working hard to help U.S. companies protect their intellectual property. The Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP) Initiative is the government’s plan to combat piracy and counterfeiting in the United States and around the globe.

The STOP Initiative is a comprehensive program designed to confront intellectual property theft and to dismantle the criminal networks that traffic in counterfeit and pirated goods. It seeks to empower U.S. companies to protect their intellectual property rights (IPR), to stop trade in fake products at U.S. borders, to keep such products out of the global supply chain, and to ensure that U.S. companies receive the benefits of the trade agreements signed by the United States.

The STOP Initiative is focused on helping individuals and businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, protect their IPR in the United States and abroad. Many individuals and companies faced with a foreign company knocking off their products do not know where to turn for information or how to develop a strategy to resolve their problem. The U.S. government established a hotline and a Web-based complaint form that owners or prospective owners of IPR can use to file a complaint or ask an IPR question. You can reach an experienced Patent and Trademark Office attorney at (866) 999-HALT (866-999-4258) or you can visit to find information on intellectual property basics and available government resources, as well as to file a complaint.

The STOP Initiative has also published IPR toolkits for rights owners doing business in, or considering doing business in, China, Mexico, Taiwan, and South Korea, with more toolkits on the way. The toolkits contain materials describing the scope of the IPR problems, suggesting ways U.S. companies can protect their rights, and listing steps to consider if someone infringes on these rights.

A Focus on China

China is a source for many of the pirated and fake products entering the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that more than 60 percent of the fake and counterfeit goods intercepted at U.S. borders originate in China. Many of those products—from car parts to toys to pharmaceuticals—endanger not only our economic interests, but also our health and safety. In the context of the STOP Initiative and beyond, the federal government is committed to confronting intellectual property theft in China and to protecting the rights of American businesses and innovators, as well as the safety of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. government is working to ensure that China lives up to its commitments to the international trading community. Through the U.S.–China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual "top to bottom" review of China’s IPR policies and practices, and the mechanisms available through the World Trade Organization, the U.S. government is actively engaging the Chinese government on intellectual property enforcement issues.

As part of the STOP Initiative, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), in cooperation with the American Bar Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Chamber of Commerce in China, established the China Intellectual Property Rights Advisory Program. Through this program, U.S. small and medium-sized businesses can request a free, one-hour consultation with a private attorney experienced in both the Chinese IPR law and the Chinese market to learn how to protect and enforce IPR in China.

Enforcement at Trade Fairs

The STOP Initiative is also working to promote protection of intellectual property at trade fairs. The DOC, through its Office of Intellectual Property Rights, and the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service are working to enhance protection of IPR at their own trade fairs, are conducting IPR outreach and education for trade fair organizers and exhibitors, and are working with industry and foreign governments to address this breeding ground for counterfeiting and piracy worldwide.

Continuing Efforts by Law Enforcement Agencies

U.S. law enforcement agencies are also stepping up their efforts to catch the counterfeiters and pirates. Through the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council, the U.S. government is working to leverage the experience and assets of law enforcement agencies to combat fake and counterfeit products in the United States and abroad. The STOP Initiative has raised the level of intellectual property–related law enforcement cooperation among U.S. authorities and between the United States and key foreign authorities.

America’s intellectual property is critical to our economic strength and, consequently, our national security. It is a necessary component in our continued growth and technological leadership. Through the STOP Initiative, the U.S. government is working to stop the criminals that endanger our health, safety, and prosperity.

Sebastian Wright is an international trade specialist with the Market Access and Compliance unit of the International Trade Administration.