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Feds announce global antipiracy initiatives

Commerce Department to dispatch representatives overseas to advise foreign governments on fighting intellectual property theft.

The Bush administration on Wednesday announced new plans to expand its crackdown on piracy overseas.

During California visits with high-tech and movie industry representatives, Commerce Department Secretary Carlos Gutierrez described two new programs aimed at eroding intellectual property theft, which costs U.S. businesses an estimated $250 billion and 750,000 jobs per year, according to a department press release.

"The protection of intellectual property is vital to our economic growth and global competitiveness, and it has major consequences in our ongoing effort to promote security and stability around the world," he said.

One program would place intellectual property experts on the ground in regions where piracy is considered a concern. There they would work with overseas U.S. businesses and native government officials to advocate improved intellectual property rights protection, according to a department fact sheet.

Experts will be sent to Brazil, India, Russia, Thailand, China and the Middle East and serve a five-year tour of duty, the fact sheet said. One such expert is already on the job in Beijing, but it was unclear when the others would be dispatched or who they would be.

Another program, called the Global Intellectual Property Rights Academy, would train foreign judges, enforcement officials and other stakeholders in international intellectual property obligations and best practices. The academy, overseen by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, plans to convene in 24 sessions in 2006, paying all travel expenses for the foreign participants, who will come from many of the same areas where experts will be working.

The Commerce Department has recently taken other actions intended to combat international piracy. In July, President Bush created within the department a senior-level position--the coordinator for international intellectual property enforcement. The department also plans to continue holding small-business outreach seminars nationwide.

The Business Software Alliance was quick to applaud the announcement. In a press release, the organization cited survey results that pegged software piracy rates at 90 percent in China, 87 percent in Russia, 74 percent in India, 70 percent in Thailand, 64 percent in Brazil and 58 percent in the Middle East.

"In all those countries, there's a long history of bilateral discussions on IPR issues," said Robert Holleyman, chief executive of BSA. "So I think they will be very receptive to getting on-the-ground systems to help with this effort."

Holleyman said he hoped the programs would ultimately raise revenue for U.S. companies and resellers selling in foreign markets and for companies native to those markets.