I understand why the U.S. administration is portraying China as a key bad actor in the theft of intellectual property, ala economic espionage…but, there is little, if anything new to report on this matter which I have been consistently examining since the early 1990’s, initially as an academic (investigative) researcher and now as an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist.
The ‘why’, in my judgement, may have a lot to do with any the administration’s perspective…insofar as trying to expedite and/or rally political-public support for the imposition of tariffs. In this instance, the target country, obviously, is China, for which there are ample reasons. Thus far, the publicly advocated – proposed sanctions for China’s undisputable practices, are tariffs on targeted goods-products. Of course, this, to no one’s surprise, have sparked a bevy of in-kind responses from Chinese officials, i.e., placing tariffs on specific (politically sensitive) U.S. produced-manufactured goods-products.
The path to politically maximizing a tariff-based initiative, should, at minimum, include…
- clear evidence of specific and distinguishable bad actors, i.e., countries and governments who variously sponsor, encourage, and consistently engage in theft – misappropriation – infringement of intellectual property and the embedded know how.
- measurable losses to U.S. businesses that include both adverse economic and competitive advantage consequences.
- specific types-categories of products and know how which are being targeted.
- acknowledge challenges to acquiring this data, i.e., most are anecdotal estimates.
- and, all should be portrayed to readily translate to both business decision-makers and the targeted (receptive) public!
Yes, China…but, also, numerous other countries, have been – are bad (trade) actors, the latter, not necessarily on the scale of China, but, never-the-less, routinely engage in economic espionage on various levels. That is, they purposefully acquire valuable ‘know how’, reverse engineer, and mass produce counterfeits, particularly the simpler goods and products.
For the more sophisticated countries – actors engaged in economic espionage…which, by the way, are increasing in number, their efforts include the acquisition and integration of extraordinarily valuable ‘game changing’ technologies which, in numerous instances render them (China) par with the U.S. or provide not insignificant competitive advantages and trade boosts, which are challenging to overcome. Either way, China, and other ‘bad actor’ countries, have been consistently engaged in their asymmetric brand of economic espionage for many years.
The global phenomena of economic espionage represent issues…which I have devoted many years of investigative research, writing, publishing, and public speaking, including trips to China and other countries to better understand (on a first-hand basis) how, why, and when, it (economic espionage and product counterfeiting) consistently occurs.
I also served as a principal investigator to a nationwide study-survey of U.S. companies…on this matter, as well as engaging in lengthy (in-depth) conversations with countless private and public-sector (national) security officials who are personally familiar – have direct knowledge – operational level familiarity with the complete range (big picture) issues related to who, how, what, when, where, and why aspects of economic espionage perpetrated against the U.S.
In fact, each public – private sector security official – executive I have engaged on this matter, beginning in the early 1990’s…professes familiarity with the issue of economic espionage, obviously, more so with those representing companies (organizations, institutions) who actually-engage in trade with China and other countries known to engage in – be the beneficiary of economic espionage.
Admittedly, for obvious reputation and repeat trade transaction purposes…few leaders, be they from the public or private sector, consistently convey comfort with going on the record, either anecdotally, or otherwise regarding their observations and facts they have gleaned regarding economic espionage victimization or losses.
That said, when an administration publicly portrays these acts-events as being exclusively related to intellectual property, a legal designation, which respectfully, large percentages of U.S. citizens are unfamiliar, aside from the singularity of patents, there will be, based on my many years of experience, numerous misconceptions and generalities.
Respectfully then, it may not be a stretch...to suggest, a potential (or, at least, partial) rationale for this administration to aggressively engage (international) intellectual property matters may be variously related to this President’s and family members’ private businesses.
For example, the Trump companies, publicly acknowledge their interest – trend toward ‘licensing the Trump name…as a distinctive-distinguishable brand’ for certain types of properties, i.e., apartment buildings, hotels, and golf courses, etc. And, as Trump Company officials readily and publicly admit, doing so is not an insignificant (legitimate) tool for any company to generate streams of revenue.
Brand and ‘branding’, and its licensing, of course…are forms – variations of intellectual property rights and enforcement, for which infringement, misappropriation, and counterfeiting are also not insignificant matters that necessarily require consistent, if not perpetual oversight.
To be sure, it is not my role here…to suggest there is, necessarily, anything (possibly) underlying this current initiative toward – against China. However, the above is an example of the type of relevant and objective speculation which can, rather naturally follow, when any U.S. government official pursues a specific initiative in which there may be underlying motives, and which, if there is a favorable resolution, can or may lead to personal gain.
The fact-reality that China, and other countries, and their governments, have variously sponsored as well as actively – directly engaged in economic espionage is nothing new…it has been occurring for decades. And, in numerous instances, the theft, infringement, and misappropriation of intellectual property, and/or product counterfeiting have become – are integral to numerous countries economic and social advancement and GDP (gross domestic product).
One disturbing commentary regarding the ‘global intellectual property theft phenomena’ intended to elevate business and public awareness…generally, that’s a good thing. But, using simplistic, probably focused grouped phrases to present a rousing and arguable rationale to address the phenomena now, and so aggressively, may not end well. Regarding this initiative, some administration officials appear to presume the U.S. public, in general, is inept insofar as being able to understand the intricacies and distinctions of stolen – misappropriated information-based intangible assets, ala intellectual property, i.e., patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Or, the same existing in other (intangible) formats, e.g., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.
So, government officials and the echo-chamber pundits become inclined to portray…the intricacies and nuances of economic espionage and data-information mining with presumably the more understandable and singular phrase ‘theft of intellectual property’ which, based on my many experiences, really doesn’t bring the significance of the matter home, unless, of course, it is your company which has been victimized, causing significant cutbacks and other forms of downsizing adversely affecting you!
It is especially important for proponents and advocates for this initiative, to acknowledge and keep in mind…amid the discussions and debates regarding these allegations related to trade, that, it is an economic fact today, that 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, competitiveness, sustainability, and growth potential do lie in – emerge directly from intangible assets, parts of which are – may already be legitimately issued intellectual property, i.e., patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret.
So, I urge audiences to avoid characterizing these allegations – this phenomena as…merely distinctions without a difference. It is indeed much more. That-is to say, a company’s intangible assets, e.g., its intellectual, structural, and relationship capital, ala specific knowledge and know how, which, by the way, routinely and simultaneously serve as foundations to conventional intellectual properties. It is this, which become the real targets of economic espionage and data mining both of which are consistently being conducted 24/7/365 globally, by just anyone with a laptop connection and some basic (investigatory) skill sets. So to lay this entire matter solely at the doorstep of China, will, in my judgement, yes, be a starting point, but far from an ending point!
Michael D. Moberly April 5, 2018 St. Louis firstname.lastname@example.org ‘A business intangible asset blog where attention span really matters’!