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International Intellectual Property Issues

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Courtney Haun
November 11, 2019


Intellectual property (IP), “Refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” The four most common types of IP in the United States include:

  • Trade Secrets.
  • Trademarks.
  • Copyrights.
  • Patents.

IP infringement, on the other hand, is when this property is infringed upon. If proper measures are taken to protect IP, such as registering a patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it can help create a way to avoid others infringing. However, avoiding infringement is not always cut and dry. Therefore, it is important to inform every decision made regarding the use of graphics, slogans and even particular product components. The following paragraphs discuss the extent of IP in the international context. Discussion then turns to the problem of IP theft, potential solutions to the issue and resources for help with IP theft.

International Context

According to the USPTO, “Since the rights granted by a U.S. patent extend only throughout the territory of the United States and have no effect in a foreign country, an inventor who wishes patent protection in other countries must apply for a patent in each of the other countries or in regional patent offices.” Internationally, almost every country has its own set of patent laws. There are also local laws that apply to trademark, copyrights and other forms of IP. This convolution in IP rights and protections has translated into a debated global issue. Some argue that IP should be open to all and without any restrictions while others strongly believe that IP should be owned by those who created it.

The United States has joined a number of free trade agreements and multilateral agreements that protect IP rights. Some examples of IP treaties include the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights. There is also policy to aid in foreign IP theft. According to the American Bar Association, a 2012 reported listed, “27 countries on the, ‘Watch list,’ and 13 countries on the, ‘Priority watch list,’ for IP rights violations. The United States government takes bilateral actions with countries on these lists to improve foreign protection of United States intellectual property.” On this 2012 report, China was the most prominent nation.


IP theft remains a prominent international issue. However, to what extent is this an actual problem? The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the domestic value of stolen IP to be between $200 billion and $250 billion annually. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, this is a growing threat because of the rise of digital technologies and the easy capability to share files via the Internet. The FBI’s criminal investigative program has a priority of preventing IP theft. However, the focus is primarily on products that can impact health and safety. At the individual level, the IP that one steals could result in a financial benefit to that person. The loss of profit can affect the owner of the IP by taking away potential opportunities, lessen a reputation or even result in job loss.

Potential Solutions

Individuals and organizations alike can take precautions when it comes to IP protection. One strategy towards protection includes registering copyrights and trademarks and applying for patents. Other methods for protection include establishing contractual security such as non-disclosure agreements, implementing security measures (i.e. background checks, restricting IP access, etc.) and acquiring IP insurance. Insurance typically protects against the significant legal costs that would result from pursing legal action through the court system. The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center is working to stop IP left at the international level. This organization has partnered with more than 20 agencies to eliminate theft through investigation processes.


Organizations, administrators and individuals can help stop IP theft through a variety of resources. Some of these resources include:

  • Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
  • National White Collar Crime Center.
  • Local FBI Field Office.
  • Intellectual Property Rights Information & Assistance.

Theft of IP is a crime that takes away job opportunities and economic growth. If victim to IP theft, there is a possibility that the person who committed the theft did so without intending to. If this happens, the person may stop using the IP by simply asking. This is not always the case and other solutions may need to resume, such as legal action. This is a global issue that that is widely affecting innovation and costing countries billions of dollars in economic value annually.

Courtney Haun, MPH
Ph.D. Candidate
Auburn University
[email protected]

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