As Russia moves to join the World Trade Organization, top lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary panels are pressing U.S. trade officials to examine its intellectual property practices.
In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed "serious concerns over continuing gaps and lapses in the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights concerns" by Russia.
“There are a number of significant concerns with respect to the denial of adequate and effective IPR [intellectual property rights] protection, or the denial of equitable market access for persons that rely on IPR protection, in Russia,” the panel members wrote this week.
The lawmakers are insisting that a "high standard accession package will be essential before both houses of Congress can consider a vote to remove Russia" from the Jackson-Vanik amendment — a 37-year-old provision crafted to put pressure on Communist nations for human-rights abuses and emigration policies, which has been "a symbol of lingering tensions in the U.S.-Russia relationship," according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
President Obama said on Thursday that he wants to work with Congress to end the application of the amendment, which most experts argue isn't relevant anymore.
On Thursday, Russia cleared its final hurdle for its long-awaited entry into the WTO, a move strongly backed by the Obama administration.
"The Government of Russia must demonstrate via transparent, substantive and prompt actions its commitment to adhere fully to the obligations it will assume as a future member of the WTO," the lawmakers wrote. "Not only is the credibility of the rules-based system of international trade at stake, but should Russia fail to conform to its obligations in a thorough and timely manner, the adverse consequences for U.S. innovators and their workers will continue to be significant.”
Lawmakers citied examples such as widespread counterfeiting and piracy of hard goods, storage of pirated CDs and DVDs on several government-controlled military-industrial sites and gaps in Russian law and enforcement efforts with respect to piracy over the Internet, according to USTR's recent report on the state of global intellectual property.
"With respect to gaps in Russian law, your report states that it is the position of the United States to urge Russia to enact online infringement legislation that addresses all forms of piracy over the Internet and provides for the swift removal of infringing content," they wrote.
The report also encourages Russia to enact legislation establishing a specialized intellectual property court and calls for Russia’s enforcement officials to increase investigations, and for Russian prosecutors to seek deterrent penalties in judicial proceedings.
Russia remains on a watch list that identifies countries with "the most onerous or egregious" intellectual property policies and practices that have the "greatest adverse impact on relevant products of the United States," they wrote.
They also noted a separate report to Congress by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive that identifies Russian cyber-espionage as a "dangerous threat to our economy and national security."
While they acknowledged that progress has been made since 2006, when the United States and Russia reached a bilateral agreement on intellectual protection and enforcement in Russia, they also agreed that the reports "raise serious questions about the intention and commitment of the Russian government to abide by and enforce the obligations it will assume as a member of the WTO."
"Not only is the credibility of the rules-based system of international trade at stake, but should Russia fail to conform to its obligations in a thorough and timely manner, the adverse consequences for U.S. innovators and their workers will continue to be significant," they wrote.