Russia Moves for Tougher IP Protections

The United States and Russia expect to sign a bilateral trade agreement next week that includes setting benchmarks and enacting new laws for the protection of intellectual property.

Russia, along with China, topped the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus’ 2006 International Piracy Watch List.

The office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has frequently criticized Russia for not effectively protecting or enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR).

The Business Software Alliance puts piracy rates in Russia at 87 percent.

“We have an agreement in principle and are finalizing the details,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement. “It is a clear indication of Russia’s efforts to participate fully in and benefit from the rules-based global trading system.”

The agreement calls for Russia to take specific actions and to enact laws by specific dates to combat Internet piracy and optical disk piracy.

It also sets benchmarks and dates for Russia to establish tougher criminal penalties for IP theft and to bring the country’s IPR legislation in line with international norms.

Russia also promises to establish a more transparent system for the import of electronic goods with encryption, a major U.S. export.

Under the terms of the agreement, Russia will permit a one-time notification for multiple products and set specific ground rules for granting licenses for products that require an import license.

“In the past few years, Russia has become home to both the greatest concentration of optical disc plants producing pirate CDs and DVDs and to some of most notorious pirate Web sites, such as,” Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that today marks a turning point in this story.”

The bilateral deal is critical to Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Russia has been negotiating with the United States and other WTO members since 1994.

To complete its WTO bid, Russia must finalize all its bilateral market access agreements.

“What happens next is completely in the hands of the Russian authorities. Russia now has a very clear understanding of the steps it must take prior to conclusion of the WTO process,” Bainwol said.

Rhett Dawson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, also expressed hope for the pending deal.

“Russia is an important market for the U.S. information technology sector,” Dawson said in a statement. “Although the details of the agreement have not yet been finalized, we look forward to coming to common ground on issues that are important to improving the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights and further refinement of encryption import licensing requirements.”

Congressional action is ultimately necessary for approval of the bilateral agreement.

According to the USTR, the Bush administration has consulted closely with Congress, particularly with members and staff of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the IPR Caucus.

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