U.S. lawmakers are considering measures to more effectively crackdown on the theft of American intellectual property. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

At a hearing before a Senate Banking subcommittee, Senator Evan Bayh, chairman of the panel and an Indiana Democrat, said the theft and counterfeiting of U.S. intellectual property - from movies and music to patented medicines - take an enormous toll on American firms:

"The estimates are that U.S. businesses lose $250 billion annually because of intellectual property theft," said Evan Bayh. "These are resources that could be going to profits, to wages, to investment."

Bayh has introduced a bill in the Senate that would increase penalties for intellectual property theft, create a unified government force to combat the problem, and raise the government's response to the crime to the level of other black-market crimes and money laundering.

Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, is a cosponsor:

"I think this is important to our national security, I think this is important to our global competitiveness," said George Voinovich.

Loren Yager of the Government Accountability Office acknowledges that government efforts to crack down on intellectual property theft could be more effective. He says the Bayh-Voinovich legislation is a step in the right direction:

"The legislation requires a new coordinating structure to prepare a plan that addresses key elements in an effective strategy, building in mechanisms for accountability, oversight and strengthening leadership," said Loren Yager.

Moises Naim, editor in chief of Foreign Policy Magazine, has written extensively about the issue. He says penalties alone will not do enough to curb intellectual property theft.

"This is a powerful market that is driven more by high profits than by low morals, by demand as well as by supply," he said. "Thus, approaching this fight purely from a law enforcement or legalistic perspective aimed at curbing the supply will miss the fact that we are in the presence of a gigantic market with millions of buyers and sellers and immense volumes of merchandise and money changing hands.

Naim suggests that new legislation to combat the problem should include mechanisms to encourage the business sector to develop and adopt new technology to make the counterfeiting of products far more difficult than it is now. He argues that technology, not patents or sanctions, are critical in protecting intellectual property.

But Brad Huther, a senior adviser at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is skeptical, saying those who steal intellectual property have found ways around the current technology, such as holograms and watermarks.

"The counterfeiters and pirates have quite adroitly learned how to take advantage of that technology and turn it into a way of protecting their part of the supply chain, the illegitimate part," he said.

It is not clear when the Senate will act on the Bayh-Voinovich legislation. A similar bill was introduced in 2005 but never enacted.