US Presidential Candidates Reveal Positions On Some IP Issues

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By Kaitlin Mara
Intellectual property rights issues have been finding their way into the campaign platforms of candidates vying to become the next president of the United States. The following is a look at IP positions of the candidates so far.

What US Presidential Candidates Say On IP

Democratic Candidates: table to view [.doc] / list to print [.pdf]

Republican Candidates: table to view [.doc] / list to print [.pdf]

The role of the Internet in alleged intellectual property infringement, especially of copyrighted music and video content, has been most frequently discussed. In particular, opinions on the use of digital rights management technology, strategies for preventing piracy and the desirability of Internet neutrality have played out in candidates’ statements and technology papers.

Less frequently on the table were issues of medical innovation, though candidates did occasionally touch on the intellectual property aspects of health care when discussing broader related platforms.

Leading Democratic candidates include: Illinois Senator Barack Obama; New York Senator and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; and former vice presidential hopeful and North Carolina Senator John Edwards [Editor's Note: Edwards withdrew on 30 January]. Republican candidates include: Arizona Senator John McCain; former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Texas Representative Ron Paul. Other candidates also have mentioned IP issues, and are included below.

International Trade and IP

China’s importance to the United States economy has been a hot-button issue in the 2008 campaign, mainly focussed on economy and environment. However, a few candidates raised concern with China’s growing technology sector and the importance of protecting intellectual property rights abroad.

Democrat Barack Obama said in his economic plan that 90 percent of DVDs sold in China are counterfeit and promises that he will “work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere.”

John Edwards, a trial lawyer, called intellectual property “a huge issue in America’s relationship with China” in a 2006 interview with nonprofit educational institution Asia Society. He added that a meeting with China’s Commerce Minister convinced him that “steps that need to be taken to protect intellectual property are [not], in fact, being taken” and that China’s plan to stop piracy “didn’t sound real.”

Hillary Clinton mentioned in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations that she wants “the countries with whom we do business to have protections for intellectual property” that are enforceable.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney, a businessman, said in a February 2007 speech that it is “time to [en]sure they enforce our intellectual property rights as well as they enforce their own,” and repeated in an interview with technology blog TechCrunch that it had to be clear to nations like China that violating American IP rights meant they were “going to suffer consequences in our [US] markets.”

John McCain, a former military officer, promised to “take [China] to the WTO [World Trade Organization] [and] put pressure on them to stop” violating IP rights,” but added elsewhere [link no longer active] that he was an avid supporter of free trade and felt China’s “desire to construct a knowledge economy implies a mutual interest in protecting intellectual property and preventing counterfeiting.” McCain also said that “a developed Chinese economy [that] wants [its] intellectual property rights respected is probably one of the best ways to encourage them to respect intellectual property rights.”

Both Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, and Rudy Giuliani, who gained attention for his leadership role during the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, casually mention IP in relation to China, but neither focussed on it strongly.

Copyrighted content

Copyright infringement made news several times in the past year, with Viacom’s suit against the video streaming site YouTube over copyright content posted to the site by YouTube users, and the Recording Industry Association of America threatening court cases against universities in attempt to stem the tide of file-sharing on college campuses.

Copyright on music and movies is an important benchmark issue for intellectual property rights legislation, as it is the most readily understood way in which IP policy touches people’s lives and is thus likely to be influential in forming opinions on the IP system.

In interviews with computer and technology weblog CNet, candidates were asked about digital rights management (DRM), technology-based solutions for preventing copyright infringement of digital content. Democrats largely took the stance that a balance must be struck between protecting the copyright of content owners and protecting the fair use rights of consumers.

Clinton stated that she would support a “review of a range of issues related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act insofar as it did not concern degrading copyright protections or encourage copyright infringements.”

Edwards said that “intellectual property laws and regulations should better balance the industry’s legitimate concerns over piracy with common-sense consumer freedoms,” and called for government to encourage full disclosure of freedoms and restrictions on digital content, so that consumers might be better informed before making a purchase.

Obama, who was the earliest candidate in the race to put together an innovation platform, called for [pdf] a similar degree of balance, noting that “as policymakers, we are in a constant process of examining our laws to ensure that the protections we place on intellectual property are sufficient to encourage invention without hindering innovation that builds on previous work or unfairly limiting consumers from using the goods they purchase in a way that is fair to creators.”

Lesser-known Democratic candidate Mike Gravel took a more philosophical stance in an interview with TechCrunch, asking whether it was the intangible reward of self-expression or the tangible reward of monetary gain that inspired artists to create.

Republican McCain also answered the CNet survey, and acknowledged that the widespread availability of information in the digital age has necessitated an update of copyright legislation in order to “protect the rights of copyright holders [and] to keep pace with the technological advances that characterise the Information Age.” Strongly in support of IP protection, he cautioned that such protections must never become “so onerous as to stifle the very innovation they strive to safeguard.”

Ron Paul, a medical doctor who has inspired a vocally supportive grassroots movement within the online social networking community, confessed to not having studied the issue far enough, but added his instinct was to allow for consumers to make back-up copies for purchased products, so long as doing so did not violate the contract entered into with the purchase.

Internet Neutrality

Recent developments have made the question of Internet neutrality an intellectual property rights issue. An open Web has always been a source for new thinking on intellectual property legislation, as the instrument through which the open source movement and alternative licensing schemes were made possible.

But major Internet service provider (ISP) AT&T is considering filtering Internet content that may contain copyrighted works, as technological measures aimed at limiting peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted content have so far failed to prevent it from happening, so the discussion of restrictions on Internet content has become about IP protection versus fair use by consumers.

Internet neutrality has been a widely talked about campaign issue, with all Democrats in favour of protecting neutrality and Republican candidates more divided on the issue.

Among Democrats, Obama in particular promised to make it a priority in his first year of office to prevent ISPs from limiting aspects to areas of the Internet, and Edwards promised to ensure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “preserves free expression and competition on the Internet by enforcing Net neutrality, ensuring no degradation or blocking of access to Web sites.”

Edwards went a step further in calling for neutrality on all telecommunications, becoming the only candidate to write to the FCC, which has been engaged in an auction for a high frequency band of spectrum to encourage “anyone winning rights to this valuable public resource should be required not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device or application to connect to their service.”

Clinton also supported neutrality, and was an original cosponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act in 2006. She commented in an interview with computing weblog CNet that “it is the basic principles of neutrality and nondiscrimination that have allowed the Internet to flourish.”

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee came out in favour of neutrality in response to a question from conservative blogger Kevin Tracey, saying “The Internet is a highway and we don’t restrict highways to 18-wheelers… if it’s a car, an SUV, or a truck, you use the same highway.”

Other Republican candidates were not as supportive. McCain mentioned letting technology and the market decide, but was unclear on what this meant for policy. Guiliani has also been vague on major statements, but TechCrunch deduced that he is not in favour.

Paul said in an interview with CNet that he did not support network neutrality, and that “legislation will hamper the development of new Internet services and harm consumers in the long run. … The best way to address the concerns of proponents of Net neutrality is to remove government-imposed barriers to entry into the Internet provider market.”

Republican candidate Duncan Hunter, who recently dropped out of the race, also was very much against Internet neutrality, and showed particular interest in finding means to filter “obscene content” and that which enables gambling.

Access to Medication

Most candidates spoke on access to generic medicines, which are off-patent, and medical research.

Clinton has published an essay [pdf] on her plan to “eliminate loopholes in federal law that allow drug companies to use the courts to prevent generic competitors from coming to market, increase funding for the Office of Generic Drugs at FDA to eliminate the backlog of generic drug applications, […] give the FDA the authority to approve safe and effective biogeneric drugs—ending the monopoly currently enjoyed by large biopharmaceutical companies”

Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic Senator from Ohio who quit the race on 25 January, was one of the few to publish a position paper [pdf] on his campaign site detailing specifically his views on intellectual property and medication. In the paper he stated: “one of the main reasons that drug costs are so high is that drug companies get legal manufacturing monopolies through the patent system” and called for more public funding of medical research so that private pharmaceutical companies would have competition to drive down prices.

McCain also has a history of supporting generic manufacture and opposing abuse of the patent system. His campaign site mentions [link no longer active] he supports easing the path for generics to get to market, and the possibility of importing drugs from outside the country, saying he would “foster the development of routes for safe, cheaper generic versions of drugs and biologic pharmaceuticals [and] develop safety protocols that permit re-importation to keep competition vigorous.” He also introduced a bill in 2002 to prevent manipulation of the patent system by pharmaceutical companies in order to extend the life of expiring patents and prevent or delay generics from reaching market.

Edwards has also said he will consider prizes for innovation research, in cases where they might be more effective than patent monopolies. He also encourages tax credits to incentivize experimentation to encourage long-term commitment to research, and wants to “modernise patent laws” to provide further incentives for research.

Obama also spoke of the need to ensure access to more inexpensive medications, saying he wants to “prohibit big name drug companies from keeping generics out of markets” and allow Americans to buy pharmaceuticals abroad if the prices are cheaper and the drugs safe.

Paul said little on IP-related health issues, though he does accuse the Food and Drug Administration of having a “bias toward large pharmaceutical companies” and cites this as a reason for Americans seeking to order medicine from Canada.

Health care regulation blog Eye on FDA speculates that Paul would not support generic drug promotion from the federal government, in line with his largely libertarian stance on government regulation in general. He did, however, support the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003, which called for health practitioners to be allowed to import drugs from a list of 25 nations where the same quality product was available for a lower price than in the United States. Kucinich and Edwards also supported the bill, according to the record.

Huckabee’s stance on generic access is unclear. He said only that the medical system is broken and the free market will make it more competitive.

New York’s Republican Rudy Guiliani also has said little about generics, though he does advocate a streamlining of drug approval processes, saying he would ensure “government regulation does not delay new cures or needlessly cost lives” and that “the current process is so regulated that a new drug takes 12 to 15 years to get to the market.”

Liza Porteus Viana contributed to this report.

Kaitlin Mara may be reached at kmara@ip-watch.ch.

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