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Skip to Navigation to Main Content:: FY 2011 Highlights: USITC Sees Record Number of Intellectual Property Infringement Cases Filed

A record number of new intellectual property (IP)-related investigations were filed at the USITC during FY 2011, yet the average time it took the agency to complete a case dropped significantly during the year, according to Commission statistics.

The Commission's caseload under section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, has grown rapidly in recent years, and 70 new investigations were instituted during FY 2011. That is up from 51 new investigations instituted in FY 2010 and is a record for the number of new investigations instituted.

For investigations concluded during FY 2011, the average completion time from institution to a decision of violation or no violation was 13.7 months. That is down from 18.4 months in FY 2010 and 17.9 months in FY 2009, according to Commission statistics.

Under the statute, the USITC investigates allegations of unfair practices in import trade. The great majority of cases under this statute involve allegations of patent infringement. Violations involving trademarks, copyrights, mask works, trade dress, trade secrets, and other forms of intellectual property may also be alleged. These investigations are typically complex and in recent years have frequently involved products or processes related to telecommunications or microelectronic devices.

The Commission began to see a surge in its section 337 caseload in the mid-2000s. Lynn Levine, Director of the USITC's Office of Unfair Imports Investigations (OUII), says that attorneys who practice before the USITC most often cite two reasons for the increase in filings. The first is that the USITC is able to provide a form of relief against infringing imports that is not available through other judicial fora specifically, the Commission can issue exclusion orders, which keep infringing products from entering the United States. The second is the speed with which the investigations have traditionally been completed at the agency.

The growth in the number of intellectual property investigations and their complexity has posed challenges for the agency, but the Commission has taken a number of steps to meet them. In FY 2011, the Commission rebalanced its resources to accommodate the expanding section 337 caseload. In particular, the Commission increased the number of attorneys in the agency's Office of the Administrative Law Judges and Office of the General Counsel. Upon Congressional approval, the Commission also allocated funds to build a third courtroom and related work areas. The agency expects to complete the courtroom construction during FY 2012. In addition, the Commission also hired two new administrative law judges during FY 2011 to replace two who had retired.

The Commission anticipates these actions will contribute to continued timely adjudication of section 337 investigations. The Commission remains committed to meeting its mandate to adjudicate these investigations fairly, thoroughly, and expeditiously, completing them at the earliest practicable time.