US initiates WTO investigation of China piracy

The U.S. government said Wednesday that it has launched an investigative process through the World Trade Organization to obtain information on China’s intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement practices, a move aimed at pressuring Chinese officials to step up efforts to fight piracy.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office stopped short of filing a formal complaint against China. Instead, the office is seeking information on China’s enforcement efforts. The action signals the U.S. government’s concern and could generate evidence for use in a later complaint.

“We would like to see a significant drop in the piracy and counterfeit rates. Because we have not, we have taken this step,” a U.S. trade official said in a press briefing. “We would hope that China would view this initiative as an opportunity to demonstrate why they believe their system is effective, and as a constructive tool for identifying any problems that need to be corrected.”

An official with the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., could not be immediately reached for comment.

The U.S. has asked China to respond to its inquiry within three months. The trade office is seeking an assortment of information on China’s legal actions in IPR cases, including data on the number of claims brought in recent years, the legal grounds for the claims, the nationalities of the plaintiff rights’ holders and on penalties meted out to those convicted.

An April 2005 report on worldwide IPR issues published by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office called addressing weak IP protection in China one of the administration’s top trade priorities. Internet piracy and counterfeit manufacture of goods ranging from designer handbags to batteries are occurring at unacceptably high levels, the report said.

The office has placed China on its “Priority Watch” list of countries not considered to provide adequate IPR protections. Other countries on the list include Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey.

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