By Josh Rich --
The first United States Intellectual Enforcement Property Coordinator ("IPEC"), Victoria Espinel (at right), has stepped down after four years in the position. During her tenure, Ms. Espinel worked to strengthen enforcement of intellectual property rights in the United States, at its borders, and overseas. Howard Shelanski, the recently confirmed administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the White House, will serve as the acting IPEC; IPEC chief of staff Alex Niejelow will help handle policy issues.
The position of IPEC was created by the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act of 2008. Under the PRO-IP Act, the IPEC is charged with developing the Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement and serves as a principal advisor to, and spokesperson for, the President on intellectual property issues. The IPEC is also charged with assisting the US Trade Representative in intellectual property negotiations with other countries and enforcing foreign obligations under trade agreements. Finally, the IPEC coordinates the issuance of intellectual property policy guidance to various governmental authorities.
Ms. Espinel was the first person appointed to the position of IPEC. Prior to her appointment, she had worked in private law firms, governmental positions, and academia. After graduating from law school, she worked as an associate at the law firms of Covington & Burling and Sidley Austin and served as an advisor for an investment company. She then joined the Office of the US Trade Representative as the senior counsel for intellectual property issues in 2001. In 2005, she became the first Assistant US Trade Representative for Intellectual Property and Innovation at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and, in that position, created the office of Intellectual Property and Innovation at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Then, from 2007 to her appointment as IPEC in 2009, she was a visiting professor at the George Mason School of Law, specializing in intellectual property and international trade.
While serving as IPEC, Ms. Espinel oversaw the preparation and issuance of the first two Joint Strategic Plans on Intellectual Property Enforcement, the most recent one issued in June 2013. She coordinated the preparation and launch of the Administration's Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets and has helped facilitate the implementation of the America Invents Act, including by facilitating intragovernmental policy advice (see "Obama Administration Solicits Public Help in Preventing Foreign Trade Secret Theft"). And as the controversy over the Stop Online Piracy Act grew, she helped defuse concerns by writing a blog post indicating that "[a]ny effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small." All in all, she will be credited for strengthening the enforcement of intellectual property rights over the past four years, especially through copyright, trade secret, and anti-counterfeiting laws and enforcement efforts.
Mr. Shelanski joined the White House last month from the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission. In his primary position, he is charged with reviewing all of the Obama Administration's potential regulations. Like Ms. Espinel, he has also worked as a law professor (at the University of California, Berkeley and the Georgetown University Law Center). Unlike Ms. Espinel, his focus has been on antitrust, regulation, and telecommunications policy. Mr. Niejelow, who will be assisting him on policy issues, has been in the position of chief of staff for one year and was previously counselor and special assistant to the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection.
Ms. Espinel's departure leaves the office of the IPEC in need of both experience and focus. She recently solicited comments from the public on potential legislative improvements to the enforcement of trade secrets in the US; the IPEC's office is supposed to promptly propose steps to take in response to those comments. Further, Mr. Shelanski's divided attention will limit his ability to lead in facilitating intragovernmental cooperation in the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Accordingly, in order to maintain the Obama Administration's momentum in protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights, and to prevent the importation of counterfeit goods, it will be important for a permanent replacement to be nominated quickly.