Mr Lighthizer said his investigation would be conducted under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act.
“After consulting with stakeholders and other government agencies, I have determined that these critical issues merit a thorough investigation,” Mr Lighthizer said in his statement
“The investigation will seek to determine whether acts, policies, and practices of the Government of China related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict US commerce.”
The probe comes at a time when President Trump has asked China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
The US Trade Act gives the president authority to impose tariffs on foreign goods although that has rarely been used since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.
China has warned the US it will act to safeguard its lawful rights if the US ignores multilateral principles of trade.
With the intellectual property issue another source of tension between the two economies, the probe is likely to cast a shadow over relations between the US and China which is America’s largest trading partner.