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Keeping Trade Fairs “Fair”

As part of its ongoing efforts to protect intellectual property of U.S. rights holders, the Department of Commerce is now requiring that trade events supported by the department take measures to help protect the intellectual property rights of participating companies.

by Sebastian Wright

Beginning in October 2006, trade events approved by the Department of Commerce, such as trade missions, certified trade shows, and the international buyers program, will be required to undertake measures to help protect the intellectual property rights (IPR) of participating U.S. companies.

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The U.S. pavilion at the 2004 National Association of Manufacturers' trade show in Chicago, Illinois. New protections for intellectual property at trade fairs sponsored or certified by the Commerce Department went into effect in October. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)

The U.S. pavilion at the 2004 National Association of Manufacturers' trade show in Chicago, Illinois. New protections for intellectual property at trade fairs sponsored or certified by the Commerce Department went into effect in October. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)


When Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez announced the new requirements, he noted, “In the 21st century, the economic prosperity of the United States will increasingly rely on our ability to advance the knowledge economy and to continue to spark innovation and creativity. Ensuring that America’s intellectual property is protected from counterfeiting and piracy at home and abroad—including at trade fairs—is a top priority of the administration.”

Trade fairs are an important part of the U.S. economy, and many international business transactions occur at, or as a result of, activities conducted at the fairs. Therefore, protecting intellectual property at trade fairs is crucial to increasing U.S. trade and to competing in the world economy.

Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Especially Vulnerable to IPR Theft

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, intellectual property theft costs American corporations $250 billion every year. Such theft can hit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) particularly hard because they often lack the resources or the knowledge to combat it. According to research conducted in 2005 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a part of the Department of Commerce, 85 percent of exporting SMEs failed to recognize that their U.S. patents and trademarks did not protect them overseas, thereby jeopardizing ownership of their own products and services in global markets.

With the steps recently announced by the Commerce Department, a U.S. company at an international trade event will now have resources available to help it when confronted with an infringement.

The STOP! Initiative

This most recent series of steps taken to help protect IPR at trade events is an example of how the federal government is expanding its efforts to put a halt to the trade in pirated and counterfeit goods under the Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy, or STOP! Initiative. First announced in 2004, the STOP! Initiative is a comprehensive program that coordinates efforts by various government agencies to protect the IPR of U.S. companies.

The Commerce Department, through the Patent and Trademark Office and the International Trade Administration, is a prime player in this fight to protect IPR. Under the STOP! Initiative, the Commerce Department is helping U.S. companies and individuals find information about IPR protection and assisting them in developing strategies to address their IPR problems abroad.

Trade Events a Key Enforcement Venue

The Commerce Department is involved in trade shows and their organization in several ways. It sponsors trade shows through some industry-specific offices, such as the Office of Textiles and Apparel. On a broader scale, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, a unit of the International Trade Administration, operates a full range of trade promotion services, including trade missions and catalog shows. In addition, the Commercial Service certifies and promotes shows through its Trade Fair Certification program. (See below.)

In the future, all of those events will have increased standards for IPR protection. Exhibitors will be required to affirm that they own, or are properly licensed to sell and display, the intellectual property that they are displaying or selling. In addition, exhibitors will be required to abide by the IPR policies of the show.

U.S. pavilions—the Department of Commerce–sponsored exhibitor pavilions within larger international trade fairs that have been certified under the Trade Fair Certification program—will be required to help protect the intellectual property of their U.S. exhibitors in the following ways:

  • Conduct outreach to U.S. exhibitors before a show to help them understand the importance of securing IPR by giving them information on the STOP! Initiative and on IPR protection and enforcement.
  • Advise exhibitors of the show’s IPR policies and procedures to address IPR infringement.
  • Assist exhibitors with procuring legal representation during the event.

Factors determining whether the Commerce Department will sponsor or certify an event will include the overall IPR environment and effectiveness of protecting IPR at the show. Don Huber, program manager of the Commercial Service’s Trade Fair Certification program, noted, “We want to help U.S. companies protect their IPR at trade fairs that the Department of Commerce sponsors or certifies. We want international trade fair organizers to directly support combating counterfeiting and piracy.”

Overseas Shows Included in Effort

Exhibitors in overseas shows that are promoted or certified by the Commercial Service can also expect some additional services from commercial officers stationed at U.S. embassies. Commercial Service officers will now be present at certified or sponsored events. They will work with show owners and U.S. organizers to communicate to U.S. exhibitors the IPR polices and procedures for the show. They will also assist U.S. exhibitors in addressing IPR complaints by helping them find legal counsel and by facilitating communications and discussions among exhibitors with IPR disputes.

Benchmarking Overseas Shows

These new rules affect domestic shows and U.S. pavilions in overseas shows, but the policies of foreign show organizers (and how they apply to non-U.S. pavilions at their shows) vary widely. The Department of Commerce is working to benchmark the overall IPR protections, rules, and procedures at these overseas trade shows. As part of this effort, the Commercial Service will contact foreign show organizers and ask them to explain their IPR policies and procedures. This information, when shared with U.S. exhibitors who are considering whether to participate in an international show, will help potential exhibitors to better understand the IPR environment they will face at the event.

This policy of IPR protection at trade shows—and its eventual expansion to overseas venues —is a vital step in protecting U.S. economic interests. “The trade fair IPR initiative leads by example,” Huber said. “We hope that trade fairs in other countries will follow our lead.”

Sebastian Wright is an international trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Market Access and Compliance unit.


What Is Trade Fair Certification?

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Trade Fair Certification program is a cooperative arrangement between private-sector show organizers and the U.S. government to increase U.S. exports and to expand U.S. participation in overseas trade shows. Through the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, the program provides Department of Commerce endorsement, show-related services, and promotional support for private-sector organizers to recruit and to build a U.S. pavilion at selected foreign trade shows. A U.S. pavilion provides high-quality opportunities to facilitate the export marketing efforts of participating U.S. firms. For more information on this program, visit


For More information

U.S. companies or individuals wanting to learn more about protecting IPR can find information on the Department of Commerce’s “StopFakes” Web site.