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Whether it’s President Biden or the US Congress, our government’s promise to our citizens is that it will help US businesses and entrepreneurs, spur demand for domestic products and drive American innovation. But to succeed in this mission, our government must do more to address an issue that is threatening to compromise the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that is the foundation of the American dream.
A recent string of cases brought before the International Trade Commission (ITC), a quasi-judicial organization with the power to exclude products from US markets, has transformed the Commission from an organization dedicated to protecting US businesses into an agency that foreign entities and patent trolls are attempting to weaponize against American entrepreneurs and companies.
One of the Commission’s key principles is that companies must be established in the United States in order to file suit with the ITC. It’s a rule that is central to the ITC’s mission to protect American companies from unfair trading practices. However, some foreign businesses have found legal loopholes giving them standing to file frivolous lawsuits that target American-made products and services, which in turn targets all of the entrepreneurs who rely on these services.
Related: More Patent Trolls Are Targeting Startups. Here’s What You Can Do.
Arigna, for example, a foreign company whose name is rooted in an old-English word for “looting,” has filed dozens of suits with the ITC alleging patent infringement against some of the most successful companies in the US — without actually making a single product. One of these cases threatened to block the import of a semiconductor essential in the manufacturing process of Ford and GM’s new EV models. Another would have excluded 93% of all smartphones from US markets.
While the companies that have been subjected to these baseless ITC cases — Google, GM, Apple and Ford — are some of the most well-known and innovative companies in the country, and entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes would be badly hurt by this lack of access to critical technology. After all, each of these companies once started as scrappy entrepreneurial enterprises.
Google reimagined the way we think of the internet by introducing a brand new way for people to quickly and easily sort through and access information. Apple disrupted the tech industry by offering new products, like the iPhone, Mac and Apple Watch that hundreds of millions of Americans use every day. And American automakers like Ford and GM are spearheading research and development in electric technology.
However, with a single ruling, the ITC could do irreparable damage to these leading companies in America’s most important industries and all of the entrepreneurs who rely on their products and services — from developers of smartphone apps to startups that rely on Google products to find customers .
In the US, we’re supposed to reward smart business leaders and successful companies that disrupt their industries with bold new products, and we’re supposed to encourage other companies to follow suit. The idea that the ITC has transformed into an institution used by international businesses trying to gain an unfair edge or with the sole goal of earning a lucrative settlement is un-American, and we have to make a change.
Related: 5 Strategies to Protect Trade Secrets and Intellectual Property
The good news is that Congress has a chance to make that change. Senators like Mike Crapo and Ron Wyden and Congressmen like Kevin Brady and Richard Neal, who lead committees with oversight authority over the ITC, can more clearly define the role of the Commission. Additionally, leaders in Washington could pass legislation, like the Advancing America’s Interests Act, that would rein in the ITC’s power.
However, abuse of the ITC is a deep-rooted issue, and it’ll require more action and serious commitment from Congress to restore the Commission. Right now, the ITC poses a serious threat to innovation and entrepreneurship, and we need our leaders to take action.