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'Invasion of the Idea Snatchers'

Patent, copyright holders struggle to protect rights in age of widespread piracy

WASHINGTON – Responding to the widespread creation and free distribution of CDs, videos, DVDs and books over the Internet without regard to copyright laws, as well as other major areas of copyright and patent infringement, a consortium of groups met yesterday to find a solution to the piracy of intellectual property.

The Institute for Policy Innovation, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank founded to develop solutions to public policy problems, co-sponsored the forum, entitled “Invasion of the Idea Snatchers,” along with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organization dedicated to free enterprise and limited government. Guests from the entertainment, software, hardware and pharmaceutical industries conferred over patent problems.

Susan Mann, federal government affairs manager for Microsoft, reported that the piracy level among Microsoft users was as high as 25 percent. Strong copyright law enforcement is “crucial” for the success of software companies, she said.

“We need strong intellectual property protection,” she strressed.

Robert Armitage, general patent counsel at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, believes protecting patents on new drugs may become much more difficult if certain legislators get their way.

For instance, Senate Bill 812, co-sponsored by Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has as its purpose to provide “affordable medication” to consumers and deter drug companies from engaging in “anti-competitive action.” If SB 812 passes, says Armitage, pharmaceutical companies won’t get trade-secret protection and generic companies will find it much easier to challenge patents on new drugs. He believes it’s only right that the company that procured the patent and invested research money for a new drug should have the exclusive right to sell that drug.

Current laws give drug companies a number of years of exclusivity before the generic companies are allowed to take over the market, he says.

Piracy in the entertainment business only leads to higher prices and less content for consumers, argues Fritz Attaway, executive vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America. His industry is not seeking new copyright laws, he says, but only enforcement of current laws. There has always been leakage of uncontrolled video copies ever since the VCR was invented, says Attaway, but now the movie industry is facing an unprecedented level of piracy through Internet distribution. The entertainment industry cannot continue to make $70 million movies if people won’t pay to see them, he says.

Jeffrey Lawrence, lead attorney to Intel’s Content Protection Programs, believes there must be a multi-level approach to protection of intellectual property, or IP. Content protection education should be taught, he says, instilling values and encouraging people to do the “right thing.” The IP industry sees unauthorized use of its products as theft, says Lawrence, and people need to be educated regarding that reality. New government laws and mandates to protect technology will not avail anything, but enforcing current patents and copyrights should be a priority, he explains.

“We have been the greatest technology country in the history of the world,” Q. Todd Dickinson, partner of Howrey Simon Arnold & White’s Intellectual Property Practice, said at the conference.

The U.S. has become a technology giant through patent protection, he says.

He disagrees with critics who say patents and copyrights are anti-competitive. Patents are “pro-competitive,” says Dickinson, because they help the “little guy” get ahead by protecting his right to his own invention or idea.

Reflecting Dickinson’s conclusion is IPI’s mantra: “Destroy the protection and you destroy intellectual property.”

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