- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

Counterfeiters have begun targeting not just high-priced luxury items but everyday merchandise such as toothpaste, condoms and prescription drugs, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

Pirated and counterfeit goods cost the U.S. economy $200 billion a year, according to Commerce Department estimates.

To help counter the threat counterfeiting poses to U.S. industry and to the health of American consumers, several government agencies have partnered to create the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPR). The center, located in Crystal City, will house intellectual-property enforcement branches from seven U.S. agencies led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“I used to wonder, as a counterfeit lawyer representing my client, where do I turn to get attention? Now I can look [at the NIPR] and know they will handle me,” said Peter Sloane, an intellectual-property lawyer with Ostrolenk, Faber, Gerb & Soffen LLP, a New York law firm with offices in the District.

Intellectual-property rights cases can be complex and often involve several agencies. Cross-border commerce requires involvement with Border Patrol and ICE. Copyright infringement brings in the Department of Commerce as well as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

NIPR will allow more efficient cooperation among those agencies, Mr. Chertoff said.

“We hope to establish best practices [between the agencies] in order to look at the real threats,” he said.

Companies accustomed to shopping piracy cases around to several agencies, will be able to save time and resources by contacting NIPR directly, government officials and industry representatives said.

China, the world’s largest producer of pirated goods, is the largest intellectual-property violator, according to studies by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“This is a high-margin, low-risk business, so we must do everything we can to increase the risk and make this less profitable,” Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said.

The United States “does $500 trillion in intellectual-property-related business … so keeping those trades exclusive is in our interest,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Profits from the sale of pirated goods have been used to support terrorism, said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE.

Ms. Myers would not say whether ICE was working on any counterfeiting or piracy cases that pointed to terrorist funding. “We have several ongoing investigations that I cannot comment on,” she said.

The NIPR Coordination Center will house law-enforcement officials from ICE, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Postal Service, Food and Drug Administration and the departments of Justice and Commerce. ICE will lead the center.

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