U.S. expanding the law - domestic and foreign - to benefit corporations
By Ben Klemens
Sunday, February 17, 2008
As a U.S. taxpayer, you may be contributing to fewer cheap drugs on international shelves. Public dollars support the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the trade agency with authority to pressure foreign governments to change their domestic intellectual property laws. As such, the agency actively presses for laws that would keep generic drugs out of markets worldwide.
[IS THIS COMMENTATOR SUGGESTING THAT THE US TRADE REPRESENTATIVE INSIST THAT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS WEAKEN THEIR DOMESTIC INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWS SO THAT THEY ARE ABLE TO ‘TAKE’ U.S. HELD PATENTS, COPYRIGHTS AND TRADE SECRETS WITHOUT PAYING ADEQUATE AND FULL COMPENSATION FOR THEM, CONTRARY TO THE FIFTH AMENDMENT OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION?? IS THIS COMMENTATOR ADVOCATING THE GIVE-AWAY OF U.S.-OWNED INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS AS A FORM OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER IN ORDER TO IMPROVE AMERICA’S IMAGE ABROAD??]
Congress is considering legislation to create a separate executive branch office dedicated to using government resources for lobbying other countries to change their laws, sometimes exclusively to benefit certain U.S. companies.
That's a bad idea for patients here and abroad, because it would give the U.S. government more power in an area where it should instead have less.
[DOES THIS COMMENTATOR FAVOR THE EXERCISE OF MORE GOVERNMENT POWER TO DETERMINE HOW DRUGS SHOULD BE MADE, HOW THEY SHOULD BE PRICED, HOW MUCH PROFITS DRUG COMPANIES SHOULD MAKE, JUST AS THEY DO IT IN EUROPE, CANADA, BRAZIL AND OTHER SOCIALIST COUNTRIES??? DOES THIS COMMENTATOR ADVOCATE IN FAVOR OF SOCIALIZED MEDICINE AND UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE FOR ALL AT THE EXPENSE OF NEW HEALTHCARE RESEARCH & DISCOVERIES AND PRODUCT INNOVATIONS??]
The international intellectual property system is based on an ingenious 1994 international treaty: Rather than establishing an unwieldy international copyright and patent office, the agreement merely stipulates that every signatory country must have domestic copyright and patent systems that meet certain basic requirements.
[THIS COMMENTATOR IS OBVIOUSLY UNAWARE OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL OBLIGATION OF BOTH THE U.S. CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT TO PROTECT THE PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS OF U.S. CITIZENS, WHETHER TANGIBLE OR INTANGIBLE, NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE LOCATED. HE ALSO IS UNAWARE THAT THE WTO TRIPS AGREEMENT INCORPORATES AND FURTHER ENHANCES THE PROTECTION OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (PATENTS & COPYRIGHTS) ALREADY RECOGNIZED AND PROTECTED UNDER THE TERMS OF TWO WORLD INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ORGANIZATION (WIPO) AGREEMENTS, SO THAT SUCH PROTECTIONS ARE MORE CLOSELY ALIGNED WITH THOSE PROVIDED FOR UNDER U.S. DOMESTIC LAW. THE DECISION NOT TO ESTABLISH A SUPRANATIONAL WORLD INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT AND PATENT OFFICE, WHICH THIS COMMENTATOR FAVORS, WAS CERTAINLY A PRUDENT ONE, IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN U.S. SOVEREIGNTY.]
The trade agency's interpretation of what other countries' domestic laws need to cover expands beyond the broadest definitions within U.S. law. To give one example, data gathered during clinical trials of new drugs are not protected by copyright, patent or trademark in the United States. But as a rule of bureaucratic procedure, the Food and Drug Administration restricts use of test results finding that a brand-name drug is safe when considering the safety of identical generic drugs. Even though it is hard to argue that this FDA rule is an intellectual property law, the trade representative is using its authority to press for comparable rules restricting the approval process for generic drugs in other countries.
[THIS COMMENTATOR OBVIOUSLY IS UNAWARE OF THE COMMON LAW NOTION OF TRADE SECRETS WHICH CONSTITUTE A RECOGNIZED AND ENFORCEABLE PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHT UNDER THE LAWS OF MANY U.S. STATES. THUS, THE USTR AND FDA ARE MERELY PROTECTING THESE SAME INTANGIBLE PROPERTY RIGHTS HELD BY U.S. CITIZENS FROM UNJUSTIFIED FOREIGN GOVERNMENTAL INTRUSION AND EXPLOITATION AND ‘TAKINGS’, CONSISTENT WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THE WTO TRIPS AGREEMENT, IN MUCH THE SAME WAY THAT SUCH RIGHTS WOULD BE PROTECTED AGAINST U.S. GOVERNMENTAL ACTION UNDER U.S. CIVIL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. INDEED, THE FDA RULES PROSCRIBE THE TAKING OF TRADE SECRETS AND ACTUALLY IMPOSE CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES ON GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES FOR VIOLATING TRADE SECRETS. THUS, THE USTR AND FDA ARE NOT ACTING BEYOND THEIR LEGAL AUTHORITY BY ENSURING THAT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS DO NOT VIOLATE U.S. CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS.]
It doesn't take much sleuthing to follow the money back to the U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers on the trade agency's advisory panel, who can maintain monopolist profits while a generic drug is blocked from the market in Guatemala, Malaysia or any of the dozen other countries that the trade agency is pressuring to adopt U.S.-style restrictions on generic drug approval.
[THIS COMMENTATOR IS ALSO ABLE TO TRACE NEW DRUG AND MEDICAL DEVICE DISCOVERIES AND INNOVATIONS BACK TO THE LIFE SCIENCES COMPANIES THAT INVESTED THE $$ AND EFFORT TO INVENT THEM AND SEE THAT THEY RECEIVE THE NECESSARY FEDERAL REGULATORY APPROVALS TO MAKE IT TO MARKET. PATENTS AND TRADE SECRETS ARE BY DEFINITION EXCLUSIVE PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS OF TEMPORARY DURATION].
Proselytizing U.S. intellectual property law would be easier if we knew exactly what U.S. intellectual property law is, but many debates still rage in the courts and in the law journals. Is software patentable? Justice Breyer, Justice Stevens and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's semi-judicial board of appeals have clearly expressed that it is not. Yet the trade representative thinks it is, which is why a 2000 agreement with Jordan required that country to change its domestic laws to better accommodate the patenting of software, and its nonbinding reports find fault with countries whose patent systems do not allow software patents.
[THIS COMMENTATOR OBVIOUSLY WISHES TO PORTRAY THE U.S. AND GLOBAL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SYSTEM AS UNCERTAIN, UNCLEAR AND BROKEN INORDER TO RECOMMEND AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE PRESENT MARKET-BASED SYSTEM. THAT ALTERNATIVE WOULD ENTAIL CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT SANCTIONED TOP-DOWN ESTABLISHMENT OF A HEALTH CARE MARKET SYSTEM THAT DETERMINES FOR INDUSTRY AND PATIENTS ALIKE WHAT IS NEEDED, HOW IT IS TO BE DEVELOPED, HOW IT IS TO BE ADMINISTERED AND HOW MUCH THEY SHOULD CHARGE/PAY FOR IT. THIS SOUNDS AN AWFUL LOT LIKE THE SOCIALIZED MEDICAL SYSTEMS CURRENTLY OPERATING IN EUROPE AND CANADA AND IN BRAZIL.]
The U.S. Trade Representative's treaties bind all parties to rewrite their domestic laws accordingly. That is, the agency can dictate how Congress is to write domestic law, and how federal courts interpret it, via its international treaties. We all want intellectual property law to evolve with the times, but every new treaty by the trade agency makes evolution a little more difficult.
[THIS COMMENTATOR OBVIOUSLY IS UNAWARE OF THE RELATIVE ROLES (BALANCE OF CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS AND OBLIGATIONS) BETWEEN THE LEGISLATIVE AND EXECUTIVE BRANCHES AS CONCERNS INTERNATIONAL TREATY NEGOTIATION, RATIFICATION AND ENFORCEMENT. IF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION RECOGNIZES AND PROTECTS U.S. DEVELOPED AND HELD PRIVATE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS, BOTH WITHIN AND WITHOUT THE TERRITORIAL U.S., THEN EVERY NEW TREATY ENTERED INTO BY THE UNITED STATES MUST CONTINUE TO ENSURE THAT THESE CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE UPHELD ABROAD. ACTUALLY, THE INTERNATIONAL LAW OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS IS EVOLVING FOR THE BETTER UNDER SUCH PRINCIPLES, AND NOT FOR WORSE.]
HR4279, now pending in the House Judiciary Committee, would establish an Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative, spinning off intellectual property from the trade representative's portfolio into its own office, without repealing the agency's authority to negotiate other countries' intellectual property laws. The new office would have authority to define the scope of intellectual property as it sees fit, and it would have expanded ability to use the resources of other departments (the Department of Justice, the State Department, Homeland Security, state and local governments, and many others) in pressuring other countries to change their domestic laws accordingly.
[H.R. 4279, ENTITLED, THE “PRIORITIZING RESOURCES AND ORGANIZATION FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ACT OF 2007 – ‘THE PRO-IP ACT’”, IS INTENDED TO STRENGHTEN COPYRIGHT AND TRADEMARK PROTECTION AGAINST FOREIGN & DOMESTIC PIRACY. HOWEVER, IT MAY ACTUALLY GO BEYOND THE TENOR AND SCOPE OF CURRENT IP LAW TO PENALIZE NOT ONLY COMMERCIAL INFRINGERS BUT ALSO ORDINARY CONSUMERS WHO MERELY COPY ALREADY PURCHASED MUSIC CDS AND MOVIE DVDS FOR THEIR OWN PERSONAL USE, AT NO ECONOMIC LOSS TO THE COMPANIES.]
SEE, e.g.,: Paul Devinsky and Rita Siamas, “United States: House Proposes Creation Of An IP Enforcement Czar, Seeks Stronger Trademark And Copyright Enforcement”, McDermott, Will & Emery (Jan. 15, 2008) at: http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=55962
The 1994 treaty on trade-related international property defines a simple base for copyright, patent and trademark, and it makes sense for the trade agency to hold countries to the basic framework. But our trade representative has gone well beyond that, to simply interpreting intellectual property as its corporate advisory boards wish, and then using the muscle of the U.S. government and the resources of U.S. taxpayers to press other countries into changing their laws to suit that interpretation. Congress needs to restrict the trade representative's expansive tendencies, instead of releasing what little rein is left.
[H.R. 4279 ARGUABLY REFLECTS THE CONCERNS OF THE MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY AND ITS FAILURE TO DEVELOP A NEW BUSINESS MODEL THAT CAN RESPOND AND HARNESS THE EVOLVING DOMESTIC MARKETPLACE. FOREIGN COPYRIGHT & TRADEMARK PIRACY, HOWEVER, POSES A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM AND CERTAINLY RISKS FUTURE INDUSTRY REVENUES. BUT DOES THIS BILL PROVIDE THE BEST SOLUTION?]
Ben Klemens is a guest scholar in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. Brookings is a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions.
[WHILE AT BROOKINGS, MR. KLEMENS HAS ADVOCATED IN FAVOR OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE, AMONG OTHER THINGS]
This article appeared on page E - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Brookings Analyst Criticizes USG For Ensuring That Foreign Governments Protect US Constitutionally Recognized Private IP Rights Abroad