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IP Commission Report: Surprisingly clueful


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner, Network World
May 30, 2013 08:28 AM ET


If one were to believe the blogs, the recently released 84-page report from The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property is full of dumb ideas, proposed by people who have no idea about intellectual property.  But the report is actually quite well done, specifically identifying real problems, including the inaccurate estimates of losses from the theft of copyrighted works, and proposing specific solutions, some of which might actually work.


The Commission, formed in 2012, is described on its web page Ňas an independent initiative representing the sectors of research, defense, academia, government, labor, and business. The Commission is dedicated to examining the causes and impact of IP theft on U.S. strategic and economic interests and recommending policy solutions to the Administration and Congress."


The co-chairs are Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and U.S. Ambassador to China, and Dennis Blair (Admiral, U.S. Navy, retired), former Director of National Intelligence and Commander of U.S. Pacific Command.  Other members are: Dr. Craig Barrett, former Chairman and CEO of Intel; Slade Gorton, a former Senator of Washington; William Lynn, CEO of DRS Technologies and a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense; Deborah Wince-Smith, President & CEO of the Council on Competitiveness; and Michael Young, President of the University of Washington and former Deputy Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs.  This is not a group that would seem likely to understand the details of intellectual property, so I expect the Commission staff did the heavy lifting in putting together the report.


The Commission co-chairs also published a Washington Post op-ed summarizing the report.


A number of Internet blogs went semi-nutz over what turns out to be a 2-paragraph recommendation on page 81 of the report.  There is no way around it, the recommendation -- basically to have copyright holders use the same kind of ransomware that Internet extorters do – is very dumb ("For example, the file could be rendered inaccessible and the unauthorized userŐs computer could be locked down, with instructions on how to contact law enforcement to get the password needed to unlock the account.").  This idea harkens back to one expressed by Sen. Orrin Hatch.  See my April Fool's Day RFC on the topic.


The rest of the report is nowhere as dumb as are those two pages. Its real focus is on trade-secret theft and patent violations, which are then used to create products that compete with the output of U.S. companies.  If there is a weakness in the bulk of the report it is that not enough attention is paid to the theft of secrets from the U.S. defense industry.  See the January report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat for more information on that issue.  


I particularly like the discussion in Chapter 7 of the problems in the generally used methods of calculating loss from the illegal copying of software.  


The report is consistent with other recent reports in painting China as the main bad guy in the cyberworld, but also takes time to discuss (in Chapter 9) recent developments in China that give hope for a somewhat improved picture in the future.


Overall, this is a good report, and worth reading.


Disclaimer:  I assume some people at Harvard have read this report, but I have not seen any opinions about it expressed by them or by the university. So the above review is my own.


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