U.S. companies may understand how to handle their intellectual property (IP) interests within the United States, but selling products and being competitive in foreign markets with varied and unfamiliar local IP laws is a different ball game. Independent inventors and small and medium-sized entities may lack the in-house resources and expertise they need to deal with foreign IP regulations.
And today, looking after those IP assets is more important than ever: according to a recent estimate from the International Chamber of Commerce, the global value of counterfeit and pirated products could be as high as $1.8 trillion a year. This represents a huge loss of revenue.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) IP Attaché Program supports U.S. stakeholders that sell in foreign markets or want to enter them. These attachés are IP experts stationed at select U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, working directly with U.S. businesses on intellectual property issues—including helping to stop counterfeiting and piracy—while supporting U.S. efforts to improve IP laws internationally.
In addition, the attachés advocate for U.S. IP policies; coordinate training on IP protection matters; and work with judicial, administrative, legislative, and enforcement officers to assist U.S. businesses that own or use IP. Currently, the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program has 14 positions around the world.
Recently, one industry-leading furniture manufacturer from Tennessee with production capability in China learned the value of the assistance that the USPTO’s IP attachés can provide. The company ran into difficulties when one of its former original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) obtained 13 Chinese design patents and used them to block the company’s other OEMs from manufacturing and exporting products. Our IP attaché in Guangzhou met with the company’s CEO and provided information and guidance on patent invalidation proceedings and how to navigate China’s IP judicial system, and offered suggestions on working with local customs and government authorities. One week after the meeting, three containers of furniture were released for export by Chinese customs officers, and $3.5 million in orders were fulfilled.
Companies can also face dangers abroad even where their operations are exclusively domestic. For example Mabrey Products—a small U.S. company based in Chico, California, that designs and manufactures wooden urns for funeral homes—made the surprising discovery last year at a trade show in the United States that a Chinese vendor was displaying urns that were direct copies of Mabrey’s product line. The company’s owner turned to one of our IP attachés stationed in China, who was able to provide guidance on how the company could protect its IP against this Chinese vendor and other infringers.
Now, other countries and markets may operate differently, each having its own—and sometimes quite distinct—set of rules and regulations regarding IP. But these examples show that the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program is working throughout the world to help U.S. businesses and stakeholders. To find out more about the program and how it can help you, visit the IP Attaché Program page of the USPTO website. Additional information on how to protect or use IP abroad, including links to IP Toolkits for more than 20 countries and regions, can be found on the USPTO website.