WASHINGTON — Intellectual property theft is in the crosshairs of the newly formed National Textile Association.

The NTA, formed by a merger between the Northern Textile Association and Knitted Textile Association, has created a working group to identify and seek solutions to the costly problem of international piracy of intellectual property in the textile industry.

Companies that produce upholstery fabrics, printed fabrics and apparel fabrics have joined together to prepare a "white paper" to present to the U.S. government. They plan to outline the extent of the problem, the monetary losses and request specific actions the U.S. could take to combat intellectual property violations.

To that end, the group has commenced a survey of the U.S. textile industry to quantify the value of intellectual property such as patents, trademarks and copyrights, and estimate the magnitude in dollars of losses due to the lack of international enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The NTA is also exploring the possibility of bringing action against one or more of the most egregious offenders under a section of a trade law.

"Design has become such a critical core competency for the survival of so many textile companies such as ourselves that the most aggressive measures are absolutely necessary against infringers," said George Shuster, president and chief executive officer of Cranston Print Works.

Larry Liebenow, ceo of Quaker Fabric Corp, citing an estimate by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute — a separate lobbying and trade group — said piracy amounts to a $100 million a year problem in the U.S. alone.

It is a bigger problem than that in the global marketplace, "which will become increasingly important as the U.S. develops new trade agreements around the world," Liebenow said.

Cynthia Gordan, vice president and general counsel at Quaker, said the company recently settled three copyright infringement cases against three U.S.-based companies that were bringing fabrics into the U.S. — in two cases from China and in one case from Italy — and infringing on Quaker’s copyrighted designs.

"Of course, that is a very expensive way of dealing with an infringement problem, one legal action at a time in three different jurisdictions," she said. "From our standpoint, we are working on this white paper to see if we can enlist the support of our government in developing a more cost-effective approach to this problem."Quaker brought the issue to the attention of Jim Leonard in July, deputy assistant secretary of textiles, apparel and consumer goods at the Commerce Department.

"The whole IPR issue came out of a session with attorneys at Quaker Fabric who asked me to come in to talk about their concern over textile designs being pirated," Leonard said. "I’ve started a major effort in this building to research this issue and expanded it to other agencies."

Leonard said Commerce Secretary Don Evans is also interested in the issue and has asked to be informed on any progress.

Gordan said Leonard facilitated a meeting on July 18 in Washington with officials from Commerce, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and U.S. Customs Service. She said it is the group’s hope that Leonard will help gain access to appropriate government officials who can address the concerns.

"These big exporters of [printed, apparel and upholstery fabrics] are hurt by people who break the rules," said Leonard. "I can’t solve their problems, but I have made a commitment that I won’t drop the ball."

To that end, Leonard has pledged to "raise the visibility of the issue" in the ongoing round of World Trade Organization talks, which are slated for completion in 2005.

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