A House Judiciary Subcommittee late last week passed a bill intended to strengthen the government's intellectual property (IP) enforcement efforts.

Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., Howard Berman, D-Calif., Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and others had introduced the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2007 (PRO IP Act, HR 4279). The Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property on March 6 passed the bill.

The bill has the support of more than 500 diverse companies, trade associations and unions, including the Copyright Alliance, the National Music Publishers' Assn., the RIAA, 3M, Cargill, Honeywell, Nike, Verizon, the Teamsters and the American Federation of Musicians.

"Having spent time at the Justice Department tackling IP enforcement and coordination issues, I understand the challenge of managing resources effectively and applaud the Subcommittee's efforts to provide leadership in this area," says NMPA president/CEO David Israelite. "This bill will go a long way towards making sure law enforcement agencies have what they need to get the job done on both domestic and international fronts."

The bill creates stiffer penalties for piracy and counterfeiting activities, such as making criminal copyright violations interchangeable in order to apply enhanced penalties for repeat offenders and increasing maximum fines from $1 million to $2 million for willful use of a counterfeit mark. It harmonizes forfeiture procedures for IP offenses, making it illegal to export counterfeit goods, and eliminates loopholes that might prevent enforcement of otherwise validly registered copyrights.

The bill also strengthens the administration's ability to address IP violations. It reorganizes and provides additional resources to the Justice Department to help prioritize IP related prosecutions. Additionally, it creates IP enforcement coordinators to facilitate greater enforcement efforts in foreign countries. It also provides $25 million in grant money to help state and local law enforcement combat IP crimes.

The bill establishes an Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative (IPER) responsible for coordinating all federal government IP enforcement efforts, which include the work of at least eight government agencies and additional offices tasked with different roles in IP enforcement.

To address the shortcomings in current IP enforcement efforts, the IPER will be established in the executive office of the president and, with the cooperation of all the relevant government agencies, will be responsible for developing a joint strategic plan for national IP enforcement.

"With this vote, Congress has taken the first legislative step toward enacting a common sense bill that closes needless loopholes in the copyright laws and provides more resources to the federal government and law enforcement to fully address intellectual property theft," says Mitch Glazier, RIAA executive VP, government and industry relations. "This is great news for the music community and all businesses that rely upon intellectual property laws."