Van Hollen, Sasse Revive Bill to Protect U.S. Intellectual Property From Foreign Theft

U.S Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) addresses the Senate chamber in November 2020. Screenshot.

By ANEETA MATHUR-ASHTON

U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have introduced a bill that would impose harsh penalties on companies and individuals found guilty of stealing American intellectual property.

Their bipartisan Protecting American Intellectual Property Act requires sanctions for people and firms that “engage in, benefit from, or enable the significant and serial theft of U.S. intellectual property.” The measure singles out China for its “routine” theft of U.S. trade secrets.

“Some foreign companies are working overtime, often in coordination with and at the direction of their governments, to steal cutting-edge U.S. technology,” Van Hollen said. “This theft of trade secrets threatens American jobs and businesses and compromises our national security. We must take swift action to stop these malign actions.”

“Given the Senate’s unanimous passage of our bill last Congress, we will be working quickly to get this done,” the senator said.

Sasse said in a statement that the bipartisan legislation is a “no-brainer.”

“We have to do more to protect American intellectual property from hackers and cheaters,” Sasse said. “Stealing our IP is routine for China’s thieves — getting serious about combating their actions by using tough economic tools, like sanctions, is a good place for us to start.”

The legislation would require a presidential report to Congress within six months, and then annually, that identifies individuals and firms who “knowingly engaged in, or benefitted from, significant theft of trade secrets of United States persons” and that poses “a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.”

The president would have the power to impose sanctions ranging from prohibiting exports to banning banking transactions.

After the bill’s unanimous Senate passage in December, the House failed to act before the 116th Congress adjourned.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview Sunday with “60 Minutes” that China had recently acted “more aggressively abroad” and was behaving increasingly adversarial.

He said the reported theft of hundreds of billions of dollars or more in U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property by China has given the current administration “real concerns.”

The theft sounds like the actions “of someone who’s trying to compete unfairly and increasingly in adversarial ways,” Blinken said.

“But we’re much more effective and stronger when we’re bringing like-minded and similarly aggrieved countries together to say to Beijing: ‘This can’t stand and it won’t stand,'” Blinken said.

The administration announced Friday that China has fallen short on its commitments to protect American intellectual property in the “Phase 1” U.S.-China trade deal negotiated between former President Donald Trump’s administration and Beijing.

The sweeping deal included regulatory changes on agricultural biotechnology and commitments to purchase some $200 billion in U.S. exports over two years.

According to the 2017 report from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, intellectual property theft costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and China is “the world’s principal IP infringer.”