FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TUESDAY, December 14, 2021
REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER AT THE WHITE HOUSE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT SUMMIT
Thank you, Victoria [Espinel]. It’s a privilege to join you, Secretary Napolitano, Director Morton – and so many other critical partners – as we kick off today’s discussion. And I want to thank you and Andrew [Kline], and the rest of your team, for your work in organizing this event and bringing us all together.
This summit provides a unique and important opportunity to build on the progress that we have achieved over the last year in combating intellectual property crimes and protecting consumer health and safety. Through the efforts of policymakers and prosecutors, investigators and industry executives, law enforcement officers and consumer advocates, we have taken historic steps forward. The comprehensive strategic plan that the Administration released this past summer is already helping the Department to focus and streamline its enforcement efforts. And the work Victoria and her team are doing to help coordinate the agencies’ implementation of that plan has been exemplary.
While I am confident – and encouraged – that we are on the right path, we cannot yet be satisfied. And we must not become complacent.
All of us must do more to ensure the health and safety of our citizens, to protect intellectual property rights, to safeguard innovation, and to combat the growing number of organized criminal networks that profit by peddling counterfeits. We do not have time to waste. And every person in this room has a role to play.
Today, when the theft of a single trade secret can destroy a burgeoning small business, America’s entrepreneurs and industry leaders are relying on strong IP enforcement. So are American consumers – and American families. When criminals sell counterfeit drugs or medical devices, real patients can pay the price. When knock-off electronic components or other parts make their way into our industrial and military supply chains, real people can get hurt. When profiteers substitute low-quality materials to make bullet-proof vests, it puts real law-enforcement officers in danger. Put simply, when fake goods find their way into our nation’s marketplaces – the health and safety of our people can be severely compromised.
Our nation’s fight against dangerous counterfeits has never been more critical. But, as you all know, this work has never been more difficult.
The same technologies that spur growth in the legitimate economy also allow criminals to misappropriate the creativity of our innovators and entrepreneurs – and to operate criminal enterprises that profit by selling imitations of legitimate products.
In fact, for every quantum leap we have made technologically or commercially, criminals – and often entire international criminal syndicates – have kept pace. They have developed sophisticated methods for counterfeiting products and trademarks – offenses that can have devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities. But these crimes – like other thefts of intellectual property – have serious economic consequences as well. They threaten the economic opportunities and financial stability of firms that sell legitimate goods. They suppress the ingenuity of our people and businesses. And they destroy jobs.
Trafficking in counterfeits is not victimless. And the Justice Department is committed to making sure that it is not seen as a safe business strategy.
Through the leadership of the Department’s Criminal and Civil Divisions and our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, through the great work of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center – and with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the FBI, and many other agency and law enforcement partners – we are succeeding in our efforts to safeguard intellectual property rights, and to protect consumer health and safety.
I am particularly proud of the work we are doing to fight intellectual property crime in the courtroom.
Over the last year, the Justice Department has made significant progress in prosecuting individuals and international criminal organizations that traffic in counterfeit goods and pharmaceuticals.
In August, we successfully prosecuted a defendant who was selling fake cancer medications to patients in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The drugs – which he marketed as a rare, experimental treatment – were manufactured in Canada, but advertised and sold globally over the Internet. With assistance from Canadian and German authorities, this individual was apprehended and extradited to the United States. He is now behind bars and has been sentenced to almost three years in prison.
This fall, a jury in Houston, Texas, convicted a defendant of conspiring with people in China to traffic in counterfeit medicine. In this case, our partners in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol discovered more than 6,000 counterfeit pills that were intended for distribution. These pills weren’t just misbranded – they were found to contain a substance that is used to manufacture sheetrock. That’s right, sheetrock.
Earlier this year, in Richmond, Virginia, the Justice Department won convictions in one of the largest IP cases in U.S. history, involving more than $100 million in counterfeit luxury goods. The defendants were part of an international group of criminals that owned and operated 13 companies and eight manufacturing plants. In this case – as in so many others – the assistance of foreign partners proved essential.
On the Monday following Thanksgiving – known as “Cyber Monday” because it’s billed as the busiest online shopping day of the year – Director Morton and I announced the results of a joint operation to disrupt the online sale of counterfeit goods and copyrighted media. Working together, ICE and DOJ executed seizure warrants against more than eighty Internet domain names that led to websites offering “bargain prices” for a diverse array of counterfeit goods. The deals, of course, were too good to be true.
By seizing these Internet domain names, we disrupted the sale of thousands of counterfeit items. We cut off funds to those seeking to profit from the sale of illegal goods – and willing to exploit the ingenuity of others. Perhaps most important, we reminded consumers to exercise caution when looking for deals and discounts online.
We are also working to strengthen IP enforcement by investing in new technologies and communication tools; by supporting the development of public education campaigns; by encouraging collaboration with private sector partners; and by incorporating the legal tools we use routinely to combat money laundering, fraud, and other types of economic crime. We have also included intellectual property crime as a focus area of the Justice Department’s International Organized Crime Strategy. And, as Victoria mentioned, in February of this year, I reestablished the Justice Department’s Task Force on Intellectual Property.
Through the Task Force, and other efforts, we have improved coordination with our partners in federal law enforcement and with our foreign counterparts. And, less than two months ago, I traveled to Hong Kong and China to meet with our international partners to discuss how we can improve bilateral enforcement efforts and close current gaps in our enforcement mechanisms.
Put simply, the Justice Department’s commitment – and my own commitment – to combating IP crimes has never been stronger. But I realize that we simply cannot meet our goals and responsibilities on our own. Collaboration is essential, across the federal government, and with our law enforcement partners, foreign counterparts, and the business community. This collaboration must become more seamless.
Events like this forum are a step in the right direction. Together, we are signaling – to each other; to those we’re working to protect; and to those we’re determined to identify, stop, and bring to justice – that a new era of IP enforcement has begun.
So many of you are doing tremendous work to strengthen – and to highlight – our nation’s intellectual property enforcement efforts. I urge each of you to keep it up. The partnership that Victoria announced today is an important step forward. The Internet remains a haven for illegal pharmacies and other operations that pose a danger to the American people, and we need a concerted, collaborative effort to put these illegal operations out of business.
With your help, I believe we can turn the page on a problem that threatens consumer safety and our nation’s economic security. Together, I am confident that we can ensure that online intellectual property crime – so long seen as the domain of the future – can become a marker of the past.
Thank you all.