IPR concerns remain despite watch list omission

“We can say that there are concerns… the biggest one is the enforcement [efforts in 2015 against] pirated goods, it’s down 85% from 2014; and the lack of convictions. We want to see a lot more of that [and] issuing a lot of warrants and seizures,” Brian Breuhaus, economic officer at the embassy, told reporters during a news conference for World Intellectual Property Rights Day earlier this week.

He made the remark two days before the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released the 2016 Special 301 Report, an annual review of the state of intellectual property rights protection and enforcement in US trading partners around the world.

In the report, the US said intellectual property rights protection and enforcement have deteriorated in a number of countries. China and Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Thailand are the priority watch list of trading partners with inadequate safeguards against piracy.

Josephine R. Santiago, director general of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), was not immediately available to give her comments on the latest report. Her office updates the USTR’s intellectual property and innovation unit on the Philippines’ action on IPR protection and enforcement.

However, during the same press conference on Tuesday, Ms. Santiago cited a period when her office had not yet filled key positions as the possible reason for the “concerns” raised by Mr. Breuhaus.

“[The office didn’t] have a prominent leader at the top of IPOPHL at the time,” she said, referring to three quarters of 2015.

“The OMB [Optical Media Board] also didn’t have a leader. I think towards the end of the year,” she added. Anselmo B. Adriano now heads OMB.

“Having come on board, I have personally taken the task of leading the enforcement side and I’m very aggressive about awareness and education campaigns for building respect… these should be improvements enough to make up for last year,” she said.

“Last month, we started talking with the Bureau of Customs (BoC). We sat down with Commissioner [Alberto D.] Lina and from then on, he was personally active in instituting and proposing measures in order for the border control to be strengthened. So we are seeing a more active BoC this year… as well as the OMB with the new leader,” Ms. Santiago added.

In its latest report, the USTR listed the following countries in the priority watch list: Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Under the US Trade Act of 1974, the USTR is required to identify “those foreign countries that deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, or deny fair and equitable market access to United States persons that rely upon intellectual property protection.” It is also required to monitor a trading partner’s compliance with measures that are the basis for resolving an investigation. It may apply sanctions if a country fails to satisfactorily implement such measures.

The placement of a trading partner on the priority watch list or watch list indicates that particular problems exist in that country with respect to IPR protection, enforcement, or market access for persons relying on IPR.

In its watch list are the following countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The report said the USTR had identified “a wide range of concerns” aside from the deterioration in IPR protection and enforcement. These include reported inadequacies in trade secret protection in China, India and elsewhere; and troubling “indigenous innovation” policies that may unfairly disadvantage US rights holders in markets abroad.

It also cited the continuing challenges of online copyright piracy; measures that impede market access for US products embodying IPR and US entities that rely upon IPR protection; and other ongoing, systemic IPR enforcement issues in many trading partners around the world.

The Philippines was last in the watch list in 2012, during which year the US said it was “concerned about amendments to the Patent Law that limit the patentability of certain chemical forms unless the applicant demonstrates increased efficacy.”

In that year, the US also urged the country “to provide an effective system for protecting against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products.”

It was also concerned about policies that inhibit US exports of IPR-intensive products to the Philippines, including measures that limit the market for imported pharmaceutical products.

Last year, the Philippines informed the USTR about its action plan on IPR protection and enforcement for 2012 to 2016. The initiatives include enhancing inter-agency coordination on the promotion, protection and enforcement of IPR; ensuring the speedy and quality disposition of IPR violation cases; strengthening the legal and policy infrastructure; and enhancing the capabilities of enforcement agencies and personnel involved in IPR enforcement.

Source: Business World Online

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