Will Intellectual Property Law Change Under a Trump Administration?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 22, 2017

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Electronic DevicesOne of many unknowns about the Trump Administration is whether intellectual property laws will change — and how.

As Ars Technica noted,

Of the two major party candidates in 2016, only the Democratic candidate has a platform that even addresses copyright and patent policies.

The President and his party have expressed concerns about foreign theft of intellectual property. The GOP platform says:

We cannot allow foreign governments to limit American access to their markets while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how, and technology.

The Trump campaign website said:

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, improved protection of America’s intellectual property in China would produce more than 2 million more jobs right here in the United States.

However, enforcement of US intellectual property rights abroad is more a matter for treaties and trade sanctions than US IP law.

Silicon Valley

Trump was not widely supported by Silicon Valley figures, and does not appear to have many close ties to the tech community. However, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is on his transition team.

Thiel has had little to say publicly about IP, other than in a 2014 article in Bloomberg in which he called the Patent Assertion Entity Intellectual Ventures “basically a parasitic tax on the tech industry.”

Hollywood

Trump does have many close ties to the entertainment community, which is also a significant creator and owner of intellectual property.

The new Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, for example, is a former Goldman Sachs partner turned Hollywood investor. As the Wall Street Journal notes, one of his investments was in the 2009 hit Avatar — the top-grossing movie of all time with earnings of $2.8 billion worldwide.

The Internet Association

As Billboard reports, in November the Internet Association, a trade group that represents major tech industry companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, sent a letter to the President-Elect presenting key intellectual property law issues of concern to the industry.

According to the group,

Access to a cheap supply of vague, overly broad, low-quality patents in our system provides trolls the ammunition they need to engage in abusive litigation against unknowing businesses by asserting these unclear patents. There is no single action that would eliminate low-quality patents and the harm they bring to our innovation economy. Instead, a dynamic and multifaceted approach to reform all sectors of the patent system is necessary to maintain U.S. global competitiveness and economic growth.

The group also expressed its concerns about changes to copyright law:

Copyright policies must prioritize the public interest by protecting innovation and freedom of expression online, encouraging new forms of follow-on creative works, and ensuring users have access to legal content. Threats to the flexible framework, such as weakening limitations or exceptions to safe harbors, would create barriers to entry for internet startups and creators, which would deny users the ability to access content online.

The “safe harbor” they’re talking about is part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I’ve written about the topic in blogs featuring Ronda Rousey and Taylor Swift.

Trademarks

One kind of IP in which the President has a personal interest involves trademark law. According to Forbes, Trump and his various companies own more than a hundred US trademarks.

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