Portman, Carper, Rubio, Senate Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Stop Theft of U.S. Research & Intellectual Property by Global Competitors

June 18, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), James Risch (R-ID), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Barrasso (R-WY), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.   

Portman and Carper, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation into this issue culminating in a bipartisan report and hearing that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP to China for their own economic and military gain. This legislation will ensure that the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard American innovation. 

This legislation also addresses the findings of PSI’s February 2019 reportwhich highlighted the Department of Education’s lack of enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities, which the department admitted was “historically lax.” This bill gives the department increased authority to enforce foreign gift reporting rules and lowers the reporting threshold to increase transparency and prevent foreign interference on U.S. campuses. 

“We cannot continue to allow our global competitors to steal taxpayer-funded research and innovation in order to benefit their military and economy. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation, which takes decisive action to safeguard American innovation, hold countries like China accountable for their actions, and ensure our world-class research enterprise is protected here in America,” said Portman. “For nearly two decades, as we detailed in the November 2019 PSI report, the federal government has been asleep at the wheel while foreign governments have exploited the lack of transparency in our education system and bought access and influence on our school campuses. This bill will help us stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation while also increasing transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding. We must hold countries that act in bad faith, like China, accountable and I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this legislation.”

“Last month, it was reported that foreign hackers were targeting our nation’s universities and health care firms in an attempt to steal intellectual property related to coronavirus treatments. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a foreign government has tried to get ahead by stealing the product of American ingenuity. A  recent investigation Senator Portman and I led revealed the ways in which the Chinese government has worked to exploit the open and collaborative nature of the U.S. research community to advance their businesses and military interests. Today, with input from our nation’s higher education community and the federal agencies charged with fostering scientific innovation, Senator Portman and I are introducing a common sense, bipartisan bill to protect American intellectual property and better leverage our international research partnerships,” said Carper. “The Safeguarding American Innovation Act aims to protect taxpayer-funded research from foreign governments working to steal it, hold those acting in bad faith accountable, and improve the partnerships between our researchers and their foreign partners, and preserve our economic competitiveness around the world.”

“The Chinese government and Communist Party systematically attempts to steal U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets in order to undermine American industry and technological advancement,” Rubio said. “This bipartisan legislation will help prevent China and other hostile foreign actors from stealing U.S. research funded by American taxpayers, and it will ensure there is adequate transparency and reporting requirements for academic research funded by foreign entities. The threat posed by China — even amidst the coronavirus pandemic — remains present, and policymakers at every level must be vigilant in counteracting it.”

“The United States is at the forefront of innovation, leading the world in scientific and technological advances,” said Hassan. “As a result, America attracts top talent from across the world to help further this research – a major benefit for our country. But bad actors, such as China, are exploiting loopholes in our laws to steal U.S.-based research and intellectual property for their own economic and military advantage. Our bipartisan bill will take necessary steps to protect American innovation and hold bad actors accountable.” 

“For too long, China has been exploiting the world-class research and innovation happening at American colleges and universities by strategically exporting American taxpayer-funded intellectual property back to Mainland China for its own economic and military gain,” said Risch. “China has earned an international reputation for its rampant theft of intellectual property and it must be held to account. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act will protect our national intellectual capital while ensuring our national security remains uncompromised by the United States’ foreign adversaries.”

“This bipartisan legislation will help American innovators safeguard their intellectual property and ensure American taxpayer dollars go towards American research, not foreign governments by creating transparency and accountability. Multiple foreign adversaries, including China, Russia and Iran have exploited the American people through research funding and stealing intellectual property for too long. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this legislation and look forward to putting it on the President’s desk,” said Manchin.

 “American innovation is one of our country’s greatest assets, especially in times of crisis such as this. China has been clear: If America can invent it, they will try to steal it. I’m proud to help lead this effort to protect American universities from attempts to steal sensitive information by China and other foreign adversaries,” said Tillis.

“If the United States is to be successful in competition with China, we need to promote and protect American innovation,” said Coons. “I am pleased to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation that will protect federally funded research and development grants and tighten loopholes within the U.S. government and make sure U.S. agencies are protected from adversaries trying to exploit our openness.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bill into law.”

“America’s research enterprise is the best in the world and the Chinese Communist Party knows it. That’s why they’ve spent the last twenty years stealing American taxpayer-funded intellectual property and then using that IP to strengthen their own military and economy,” said Hawley. “The time has come to put a stop to this, which is exactly what this bill will do, by preventing the Party from buying access to American researchers and sending spies to our colleges and universities.”

“U.S. academic institutions are global leaders in research, innovation and discovery. It is because of the caliber of their groundbreaking work that American colleges and universities have become targets for bad actors like China. This bipartisan bill would strengthen the protections for our research and intellectual property from being exploited by China and other rogue actors for their own interests,” said Shaheen. “I’m glad to be part of this bipartisan effort to protect American institutions and safeguard the work that bolsters our national security and economy.” 

“For years, China has tried to infiltrate American universities in order to influence and access scientists and researchers. We must do everything we can to safeguard one of our most precious resources: American innovation,” said Barrasso. “Our bipartisan bill increases transparency and holds China and other countries accountable for any attempt to steal taxpayer-funded research and sensitive technologies.”

“Nevada’s premier institutions of higher education get significant federal funding for their cutting-edge research,” said Cortez Masto. “It’s crucial to safeguard innovation garnered through both taxpayer-funded research and private enterprise so that Nevada’s economy can reap the benefits of its groundbreaking ideas.”

“We should all be very concerned about the threat of Communist China and its attempts to steal U.S. research and intellectual property,” said Scott. “Communist China has infiltrated our research institutions in an attempt to illicitly funnel knowledge and research back to mainland China. We cannot take this criminal action lightly. We have to remain vigilant and proactive, and this is an important step to protect American intellectual property from foreign influence.”

 “Innovation is the engine that powers the American economy, and it’s what will enable us to return to the greatest economy we’ve ever had following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Braun. “This legislation is an important step in holding China accountable for their intellectual property theft and protecting American innovators from having their research stolen.” 

“Securing the integrity of our nation’s research institutions is crucial for maintaining our national security,” said Blackburn. “We cannot allow China to continue exploiting our grant process. This legislation will ensure that the academic exchange of ideas is possible with partner nations, while inhibiting untrustworthy actors like China to participate and use what they learn against us.”

This bipartisan legislation will protect American research and IP from global competitors by:

  • Punishing individuals who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment for not more than five years or both and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant;
  • Strengthening the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by requiring the State Department’s exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies;
  • Strengthening the State Department’s authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States;
  • Mandating a standardized U.S. government grant process by authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to standardize the grant application process; share information about grantees; and create a U.S. government-wide database of federal grantees; and
  • Lowering the reporting threshold for U.S. schools and universities receiving foreign gifts from $250,000 to $50,000 and giving the Department of Education authority to punish schools that fail to properly report.

The bill text can be found here.