“Unfair Trade” & IP (Old School Edition)

I thought that TRIPS brought intellectual property (arguably a non-trade issue) into the realm of international trade, but it seems that the uneasy marriage has a much older heritage in the United States: Smoot-Hawley, everyone’s favorite tariff legislation.

The ITC was established in 1916 as the U.S. Tariff Commission. Smoot-Hawley gave it the authority to review claims of “unfair trade practices” based on patent infringement. If a company with U.S. operations believes a competitor is importing a product that infringes on its intellectual property, it can bring a Section 337 claim to the ITC. An administrative law judge then hears the case, and he can issue an exclusion order barring imports of the infringing product for the duration of the patent. The order is also subject to the review and approval by the six-member, bipartisan ITC board.

Incredibly, all of this takes place separately from normal judicial proceedings on patent infringement or validity. Most of the cell-phone cases mentioned above are also in court on patent-infringement grounds, but these cases can take years and are subject to lengthy appeals. The ITC tries to discharge Section 337 cases in about a year, and will not wait for the courts. Once the ITC votes on the judge’s order, there is only one avenue of appeal: The President has 60 days to override the ITC’s order. If he doesn’t act, the import ban takes effect… [WSJ]

More at Against Monopoly.