The IP Detectives – A New Federal Player in IP Rights Enforcement

17 02 2011

By Seth Chadab

From a blackout of a popular illegal Superbowl internet feed to intercepting thousands of counterfeit goods, including sports jerseys and Rolexes, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR), a relative newcomer in IP enforcement, is addressing the internet’s increasingly effective means for facilitating a multitude of copyright and trademark violations.

Last November, investigators of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made headlines by executing seizure orders for 82 domain names accused of selling counterfeit goods over the internet.  The sites, which now display an “official” seizure notice, serve as a warning that there are government agencies committed to enforcing intellectual property rights over the internet.  The IPR and federal authorities targeted sites that offered a wide range of counterfeit merchandise, including replicas of NFL and NHL jerseys, expensive Swiss watches, and designer clothing.  File-sharing and Torrent sites that hosted search engine capability were also seized in the measure, dubbed “Operations In Our Sites.”

The IPR Center was created in 2008 as an interagency of the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and other federal authorities dealing with enforcement of intellectual property rights.   The IPR Center is now trying to stay ahead of counterfeiters by executing domain seizures before major shopping holidays and sporting events that seem to fuel the demand for cheap knock-offs.  Ahead of this year’s Superbowl, the agencies seized $500,000 worth of football jerseys and sportswear and made waves through the internet by shutting down two popular video streaming websites, blacking out the broadcast for many who planned to watch the game from their computer.  For this Valentine’s Day, the IPR and ICE targeted sites that offered counterfeit handbags, jewelry, and sunglasses.

Enforcing intellectual property rights through domain seizures will have limited success in curbing counterfeiting and online copyright piracy, however, due the Center’s limited reach over domestic websites.  Perhaps the most important effect of the seizures  is the promotion of public awareness of the problems intellectual property owners are facing from the prevalence of piracy over the internet.