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December 15, 2018 Vol. 73 No. 21 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Bruce Foucart: How to Build an Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center

The U.S. National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) was created in 1999 as part of the former U.S. Customs Service, before it came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in 2002. In 2016, the IPR Center was codified as part of the Trade Enforcement Act as being the location in the United States for federal investigations and coordination and the clearinghouse of information on IP matters. Based in Arlington, Virginia, the IPR Center sits in a task force setting with 19 federal agencies and four international agencies (EUROPOL, Interpol, the Mexican Tax and Customs Administration, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). It is a unique model that took years to perfect, and it serves as a valuable model for countries seeking to better coordinate their IP enforcement activities.

Until 2017, Bruce Foucart served as Director of the IPR Center, following a 30-year career in federal law enforcement, including as Special Agent in Charge of the New England office of ICE, HSI. Today, Mr. Foucart works with companies to protect their brands and to address their vulnerabilities, and also does investigative work for organizations including Major League Baseball and Ford Motor Company.

Recently, he collaborated with INTA to produce a white paper based on his experience with the IPR Center that can serve as a guide for countries seeking to establish a similar model to the IPR Center in order to better coordinate IP enforcement matters among government agencies. “A Guide to Building an Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center” outlines the history of the U.S. IPR Center, how it evolved from a legislative perspective, and key recommendations and best practices for building such a center. While there are several other international models that work well, the U.S. model is unique and can serve as a useful guide, particularly for developing nations.

Mr. Foucart spoke with the INTA Bulletin about what the paper addresses and how it can help governments that might be considering ways to improve their IP enforcement capabilities.

Why did you agree to work on this paper with INTA?
Thanks to my background and history as the U.S. IPR Center Director, I have a lot of knowledge and have done a lot of speaking on best practices relating to the history of the U.S. IPR Center and how it evolved from the late 1990s to the present. It didn’t happen overnight. When INTA asked me about writing the paper in order to advocate the model to other countries, as a subject matter expert in this area I thought it was a great opportunity to share my experience.

Are there particular jurisdictions that you think might benefit most from an IPR Coordination Center?
The paper targets any and all countries that need an IPR coordination center. Some don’t—for example, Europol has an IP crimes and fraud coordination section that coordinates law enforcement issues within all of the EU member states, and there are a lot of countries in Europe that have very good IP crimes enforcement agencies, such as the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) of the City of London Police in the United Kingdom. Whenever you get a number of different agencies together that have IP issues to take part in IP investigations, training, and coalition building under one roof talking with a mission statement, it benefits the public and industry and makes it a lot more seamless for agencies to navigate in dealing with one another. When I worked at the U.S. IPR Center, I remember visiting one country to provide training and we realized that many of this country’s different law enforcement agencies were together in one room really for the first time, discovering one another’s authorities for the first time. That’s what the IPR Center does: it brings the agencies together so that they have resources right at their fingertips in a task force setting to collaborate. We take that for granted in the United States, but it doesn’t happen in every country.

What are the main challenges involved with establishing an IPR Coordination Center?
The first is appropriations—how will it be funded? Is it going to come from existing agency budgets? This is how the U.S. IPR Center started initially, and then we were appropriated additional money. That fiscal hurdle is a challenge for any country. I’ve heard some people make the point that governments and law enforcement are protecting brand owners’ brands, so they should be involved in funding the IPR Center, but I think that’s a double-edged sword. You have ethical issues with that model—would the agents be more inclined to investigate matters involving their donors, for example? So I would advocate to keep private interests out of it in favor of establishing something internally within governments and agencies themselves.

The second hurdle is how to get it started—is it a legislative fix, or would it be an internal policy set by one agency inviting other agencies? They would have to figure out what works best for them.

What are some of the key successes of the U.S. model?
Targeting infringing goods is more of an exact science today than it was in the 1990s. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has more tools at its fingertips and the coordination and communication with brands is much better than it was in the early days of the IPR Center. INTA has conducted trainings with CBP personnel also, and those kinds of interactions and collaborations go a long way. Having a network where CBP officers can pick up the phone and call at any given time really helps to improve statistics and enforcement results. It’s more acute than when there were only two agencies dealing with these issues; when you open that up to 23 agencies, you have more input—the more the merrier! That’s one of the biggest differences. It has made the sharing of information that much better, which has resulted in better enforcement results.

What impact do you hope the paper has?
I want to get people thinking. This is a great conversation starter to develop a vision of what is possible. The U.S. model isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it has produced positive results year-over-year, more training, and more coalition building around the world. There are a lot of best practices to be learned from it. We just want other countries to take a look at it and perhaps develop their own vision about how to launch something similar. Several government officials I‘ve spoken with have said they know ways they could get started on it immediately. I think the paper provides a great basis for governments to begin developing a plan.

More About the White Paper

INTA’s Manager, Anticounterfeiting, Maysa Razavi, explains why the Association worked with Mr. Foucart to publish “A Guide to Building an Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center” and how it will be introduced to officials around the world. 

Why did INTA want to produce this paper?
One of INTA’s policy goals is to promote effective anticounterfeiting best practices worldwide. Counterfeiting is a complicated crime which touches several agencies at the national level. The two major enforcement bodies that tackle this issue are customs and the police. Customs traditionally seizes counterfeits at the border and the police will investigate counterfeit rings and enforce nationally. Without connecting these two sides of the problem, even the most effective enforcement body will never tackle the ever-growing problem of counterfeiting on its own, as it does not have all the tools to combat the problem single-handedly. An IPR Center will allow these various agencies to coordinate efforts. A centralized national body will also allow for better collaboration internationally, which is essential with the transnational nature of counterfeiting.

How do you plan to promote the paper to international governments?
The INTA Anticounterfeiting Committee has been aware of the paper’s development and has been eager to share it with officials around the world. Members have already engaged officials in Canada, Europe, and India on the idea. Now that the paper is completed, INTA Representative Offices will send it to the officials at the national level in their jurisdiction. The Association will hold several events throughout the year to promote the paper, including the Fourth IPO Seminar in Latin America in 2019 and similar events in targeted regions.

 Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. Law & Practice updates are published without comment from INTA except where it has taken an official position.

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