Fighting for International Copyright from Gulf Coast

Todays News


The International Intellectual Property Institute for decades has shown how ownership of patents and copyrights could bring economic growth to communities. It’s a mission founder Bruce Lehman devoted himself to 20 years ago. And now that he’s moved to Sarasota, much of the work of the organization gets done here on the Gulf Coast.

Lehman, previously the Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton and the U.S. commissioner of patents and trademarks, retired to Sarasota less than a year ago, but he continues to serve as chairman for the IIPI. He actually got into property law first through his work as counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. His time in Washington, which dates back to 1974, included proceedings on potential impeachment of President Richard Nixon, but he ended up serving as the principal legal counsel drafting the Copyright Act of 1976, which remains the primary law governing copyright in the U.S. today.

“We were then in a period when the U.S. had a difficult time in terms of international competition,” Lehman recalls. Japanese manufacturers were savaging the U.S. in the electronics and automotive fields, and when President Jimmy Carter got elected in 1976, an even greater priority was placed on international patent law and encouraging investment in technology. Before the advent of the internet, Lehamn helped with creating the first digital databases used by the federal government during a modernization of patent registration. He would only grow in stature in the IP field, getting the nomination from Clinton in 1993, and then founding the IIPI in 1998. The Institute, in Lehman’s eyes, could educate people around the world about how strong intellectual property laws could spur economic growth, and that respect for patents and copyrights would ultimately be good for developing countries.

Since Lehman’s move to Sarasota, the IIPI hired Sarasota resident Susan Nilon as executive director.Both Lehman and Nilon last weekend traveled to Washington, D.C., where the Institute still keeps its main office walking distance from the Hart Senate Office Building, in part to talk about various aspects of copyright with board members and federal officials. Nilon, who also works with the Florida ACLU, says the organization right now is shifting more resources to copyright in addition to the patent work done over the past 20 years. 

Nilon notes that intellectual property in fact is ingrained in the U.S. Constitution, and the long tradition of recognizing ownership of ideas helped the nation prosper in the industrial revolution and prior. And in an increasingly digital world, it’s important laws still protect the rights of writers, artists and patent holders today. “Intellectual property is what makes us work,” says Nilon. “It’s about how we compete in the marketplace.”

And it's an area of law where traditional partisan lines mean little, according to Nilon. "It's equally supported by all parties," she says. 

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