US Foreign Policy on Intellectual Property Rights

The United States government has a broadly coordinated, multi-pronged strategy for addressing Intellectual Property (IP) policy in the context of international trade agreements. This strategy was formulated by IP-driven industries based in the US and has been increasingly embraced by the US federal government in its trade negotiations over the last several decades. This strategy involves the coordinated use of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between the US and other countries to maximize the rights of the US IP industry overseas. The main special interest driving US foreign policy on copyright is the major US movie and recording studios.

Multilateral legal regimes on intellectual property rights include regional and international treaties negotiated at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), or the World Trade Organization TRIPS Council, as well as regional trade agreements such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The US also acts unilaterally through it’s “Special 301” process that ranks countries according to their IPR policy, and focuses attention on countries that the US IP industry feels needs the greatest reform of its domestic laws. Countries put on the Office of the US Trade Representative’s “Special 301 Report” become pressured into undertaking trade talks with the US to change their domestic IP laws and internal enforcement actions. A country being listed on the USTR’s “Special 301 Report” often leads to the signing of a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the unsatisfactory foreign nation. Trade organizations can also begin a “Special 301” action against a foreign country by filing a request to the USTR.

Below: US Ambassador Susan Schwab, top official at the Office of US Trade Representative and Bush Administration appointee: