US President George W Bush has signed a bill under which counterfeiters can be sentenced to life imprisonment if their crime causes the death of an individual.
The passing of the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2007 (PRO IP) strengthens the US court’s power to punish those convicted of counterfeiting; a measure big pharmaceutical has been calling for. By increasing its maximum penalty the US has brought its punishment more closely into line with China, which sentenced a man to life in prison for causing 14 deaths by using a fake ingredient in human immunoglobulin.
The sentence for inflicting serious bodily harm as a result of counterfeit products has also been increased and can now result in up to 20 years in jail. Both sentences can also carry a fine. In addition to increasing the punishments for trafficking counterfeit goods the new legislation also ramps up US preventative powers.
The majority of the Act is focused on the coordination of a strategy to combat counterfeiting and piracy, with the most visible aspect being the creation of an IP Enforcement Representative (IPER).
When appointed the IPER will be the President’s principal advisor on matters relating to intellectual property. The post will carry the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, putting it on a par with the attorney general and secretary of defense.
The IPER will take responsibility for developing and implementing the Joint Strategic Plan. This is a wide reaching initiative that aims to eliminate counterfeit products from the international supply chain. Part of this entails “identifying individuals, financial institutions, business concerns, and other entities involved in the financing, production, trafficking, or sale of counterfeit or pirated goods”.
This extends its remit beyond the US to include collaborating with other countries to ensure they have adequate intellectual property laws and ensure they are enforced.
As part of extending its international reach 10 intellectual property attachés are to be appointed, in addition to those currently employed in similar capacities. These will serve in US embassies or other diplomatic missions with the aim of encouraging cooperation with foreign countries and promoting education and training within the host nation.
The bipartisan Act passed through the House and the Senate with minimal difficulties or opposition. It has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the Act will cost $435m from 2009 to 2013.