COVID-19 exposes the threat of China’s theft of American intellectual property
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have made many sacrifices and have done their part to flatten the curve and protect the lives of their family and neighbors. The private sector, including many companies in my home state of North Carolina, have also stepped up to the plate to help our nation during this unprecedented public health crisis.
Behind the scenes, however, the Chinese government—the same government that lied to the world about COVID-19 and then covered it up—is directly threatening our progress. The Chinese government is putting Americans at risk by shipping counterfeit products, hacking into the computers of American companies and research institutions, and brazenly attempting to steal intellectual property related to COVID-19 treatments and cures. The Chinese government’s malign actions not only hurt the American economy but also pose a significant public safety risk to Americans.
In late January, at the same time the Chinese government was lying to the world and downplaying the risk of COVID-19, they were secretly purchasing and hoarding the world supply of face masks and other personal protective equipment. Now the Chinese government has the audacity to send us counterfeits of N95 respirators – which are finding their way into the hands of heroic first responders, putting their lives in danger.
These N95 respirators are so essential that due to the lack of widespread supply, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend the N95 respirator for public use, reserving them for health care workers and other first responders. The CDC has warned of companies producing counterfeit N95 respirators with falsely marked National Institute of Health approval numbers, and the Department of Homeland Security reported seizing a shipment of counterfeit 3M respirators shipped from China. Additionally, several states have reported receiving substandard respirators from China.
In addition to the public health threat posed by counterfeit Chinese products, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently issued a notice to American companies and universities engaged in lifesaving research related to COVID-19. This notice warned American companies and research institutions about attempts by hackers affiliated with the Chinese government to target and steal intellectual property, jeopardizing the delivery of “secure, effective, and efficient treatment option[s].” This includes our nation’s all-hands-on-deck effort to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, an undertaking the Chinese government is now threatening.
For far too long, the federal government has turned a blind eye to this kind of malicious conduct perpetrated by the Chinese government. Previous administrations—both Republican and Democrat—share blame for failing to prioritize combatting the theft of America’s intellectual property.
America’s innovation economy is the best in the world, and China knows that. The Chinese government has demonstrated time after time that if America invents it, they will try to steal it.
While America rewards and incentivizes innovation, China rewards and incentivizes the theft of American innovation. Chinese government-affiliated hackers are trying to steal and disrupt important research at companies and institutions who are developing essential diagnostics, treatments, and cures for COVID-19. It’s a threat to our national security.
The United States cannot afford to continue to give China a free pass, and I am taking steps to hold China accountable for their malicious actions. I recently introduced an 18-point plan of action to hold the Chinese government liable for lying to the world about COVID-19, which sparked the global pandemic.
My plan includes pro-active measures to prevent China from stealing our technology and providing incentives to American companies in all industries to spend more on researching new products, technologies, and services. My plan proposes sanctioning Chinese companies that directly benefit from stolen technology and invest in new defensive cybersecurity capabilities to protect against incoming attacks.
As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to make stopping theft by China a top priority. This is essential to protect public safety and prevent any interruption to our economic recovery. If America’s innovation economy is going to continue to dominate in the twenty-first century, we need to combat China’s malign activities against us, and we need to do it now.
Tillis is the junior senator from North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.