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Pirates Still Sailing By IP Protection Efforts

WASHINGTON - The United States continues to flex its powerful legal muscle when it comes to intellectual property (IP) protection but even the government admits the results have been mixed.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said IP protections are still questionable when it comes to international piracy and counterfeiting of U.S. goods and services.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," he told reporters here Tuesday. "It's a matter of laws, cultures and a question of education."

Gonzales added, "IP theft knows no boundaries and requires cooperation with other countries.

Speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Gonzales primarily touted his agency's progress in stemming IP theft, which he estimates costs the U.S. economy $250 billion a year.

"The Department of Justice (DoJ) is achieving its goal of increased capacity to address IP crimes," Gonzales told the luncheon crowd. "We understand that a key law enforcement objective is to protect the ingenuity of the artist and the inventor."

A new DoJ report released Tuesday in conjunction with Gonzales' speech states the agency charged 350 defendants with IP offenses in 2005, nearly doubling the 177 charged in 2004.

The cases included defendants trafficking in counterfeit pharmaceuticals, unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material and violations of federal trademark laws.

Included among the DoJ actions were arrests of "warez" groups, which specialize in pre-release music and video properties and the first ever criminal convictions of peer-to-peer pirates.

"Those who would counterfeit and pirate their way to wealth must be deterred or otherwise stopped," Gonzales said.

Of course, U.S. law and Gonzales' voice carries little weight in high piracy rate countries such as China and Russia. Both countries made the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus' 2006 International Piracy Watch List.

Last year, the United Trade Representative placed China on its Priority Watch List for intellectual property theft. China joined Russia and 12 other U.S. trade partners on the list.

"We are continuing to talk with [Chinese] government officials about IP protection," Gonzales said. "It's going to take time to change China's attitude."

Gonzales traveled to Beijing last year to meet with his Chinese counterparts to discuss IP issues. IP was also at the top of the agenda earlier this month in Washington at the annual U.S./China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement.

And over the last two years, the DoJ has been busily prosecuting a number of people arrested through what the agency characterizes as the largest multi-national effort ever directed at global IP theft.

The sweeping raids involved more than a 100 search warrants executed in 27 states and 10 foreign countries. To date, the DoJ has convicted 60 U.S. citizens caught in the crackdown.

Gonzales suggested when China becomes more of a producer of intellectual property, Beijing will be more responsive to the issue.

"When China has more skin in the game, their stake will be raised," he said.