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Intellectual Property Rights

ICE hosts intellectual property theft symposium at National IPR Center

Intellectual property theft is "a serious problem that is global in nature and growing," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton at a symposium held on June 3, 2010, at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Arlington, Va.

Representatives of industry, academic institutions, a global policy think tank, and local, federal and international law enforcement agencies attended the group session to discuss the emerging threat of IP theft and its connection to organized crime and terrorism. C-Span covered the event.

Morton said that public perception of intellectual property (IP) rights theft needs to be clear.

"IP theft robs people of their innovation, jobs and tax revenue that funds vital government services," he said. "IP theft is a crime organized criminals engage in, turning their profits toward other criminal activities, and IP theft creates safety risks for everyone due to the proliferation of substandard goods, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals, aircraft parts or daily consumables like toothpaste."

ICE Office of Investigations Director James Dinkins welcomed the group and provided opening remarks. He then introduced the first presenter, IP Program Director from Interpol John Newton, who discussed "working with member countries to deliver regional and global success."

A number of presentations and two panel discussions followed, including an industry focus on current trends and emerging threats while a second panel discussed IP Cyber Crime.  ICE Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Philadelphia and ICE SAC Miami each cited cases that linked IP theft with terrorist activity.

In Philadelphia, a multi-agency investigation revealed supporters of Hezbollah who trafficked in stolen and counterfeit goods. The subjects were charged with numerous crimes including, conspiracy to export from Philadelphia to Syria, weapons, including guided missiles, Stinger missiles, machineguns and Colt M4 Carbines.

An investigation in Miami uncovered seven Miami businesses that exported electronics to the Galeria Page Mall in Paraguay – a known U.S. designated terrorist entity in which U.S. individuals are prohibited by law from trading.

These two cases exemplify the trend of criminal organizations and terrorists to add counterfeit goods trafficking to their portfolio of criminal enterprises, using their ill gotten proceeds to finance other criminal ventures. In fact, in a study last year, the Rand Corporation reported that criminal organizations that engage in IP theft also commit murder, kidnapping and extortion.

In his closing remarks, Morton said the IPR Center will expand partnerships with other countries in multi-lateral operations and also urged industry to partner with ICE and "join us in this mission."

"This is a great moment to be involved in IP enforcement, even if it's a challenging moment," Morton said. "Law enforcement and government officials are becoming increasingly attuned to the seriousness of this form of theft, and we are prepared to take action."

Read more about the IPR Center.