Obama picks yet another industry lobbyist for key trade post

February 28

In November, I wrote that "since the turn of the century, at least a dozen USTR officials have taken jobs with pharmaceutical companies, filmmakers, record labels, and technology companies that favor stronger patent and copyright protection." USTR has also routinely hired former lobbyists from these industries.

This week, it happened again. The Hill reports that President Obama has tapped Robert Holleyman to be a deputy USTR. Holleyman is a former lobbyist for BSA, a software industry group that represents companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Oracle as members. The Hill reports that during his time at BSA, he "focused on combating piracy and protecting intellectual property."

Stronger anti-piracy measures may be in the interest of BSA's member companies, but they're not necessarily in the interests of the American technology sector more generally, or in the public interest. Excessive legal protections can create legal uncertainty and discourage innovation. And deals that require other countries to adopt stronger U.S. laws also lock those policies here at home.

Indeed, it's worth asking why USTR is involved in this business in the first place. Theoretically, USTR is supposed to be focused on removing barriers to trade so that American companies can sell more goods abroad. Stronger copyright and patent policies have little to do with that objective. Moreover, the growing public backlash on these issues threatens to sink America's broader trade agenda. In 2012, protests by copyright reformers in Europe led to the rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in 2012. But the decision to hire Holleyman suggests that USTR isn't going to change its one-sided approach to copyright and patent issues any time soon.

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Brian Fung | February 28