[A2k] Bridges Weekly: Washington IP ‘Priority Watch List’ Sparks Mixed Response

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 10 04:46:16 PDT 2012


http://ictsd.org/i/news/bridgesweekly/132876/

Intellectual Property Programme • Volume 16 • Number 18 • 9th May 2012

Washington IP ‘Priority Watch List’ Sparks Mixed Response

The US has released its annual report listing countries that allegedly deny “adequate and effective” protection of intellectual property, placing over a dozen of its trading partners - including Canada, China, India, and Russia - on its “priority watch list.” While industry groups applauded the report, some civil society groups cautioned that it may have been too heavily influenced by industry lobbying.

The Special 301 Report - which is named after a section of the US Trade Act of 1974 - has been  published every year since 1988, when amendments to the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act made it mandatory. This year’s version was issued on 30 April.

“This year’s Special 301 Report is more significant than ever in light of recent US Government data showing that IP-intensive industries support as many as 40 million American jobs and up to 60 percent of US exports,” US Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk said, referring to new statistics recently published  by the US Department of Commerce.

Thirteen countries were included in this year’s priority watch list, which flags the most significant concerns regarding insufficient IPR protection or enforcement. The countries named included Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela. A lower level watch list outlined 26 other US trading partners - including Mexico and some EU member states - whose IP policies, according to Washington, also merit attention.

Spain and Malaysia, which had both been on last year’s second-tier list, were removed from this year’s report after adopting new regulations to better protect IPRs, Washington said. Meanwhile, Ukraine moved back to the priority list after having been on the second-tier list in last year’s report, as a result of “serious and growing concerns relating to counterfeiting and rampant piracy, including piracy over the internet,” the Office of the USTR said in a statement.

China’s IP policies - a repeated point of contention between the two trading partners - also featured heavily in the report. One of the main concerns cited by Washington was Beijing’s “indigenous innovation” policies, which it argues “effectively coerce the transfer of IPR from foreign rights holders to domestic entities.”

Trade pacts useful enforcement tools, Washington says

The report also outlines the actions taken by the Administration of President Barack Obama toward effective protection of IPRs, including the negotiation of plurilateral trade agreements. In particular, it describes the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as “a key initiative to advance the multi-faceted US trade and investment interests in the Asia-Pacific.”

The TPP “will include strong standards for the protection and enforcement of IPRs,” the report noted.

The document also calls the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) “an important new tool to fight trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy,” underscoring that the accord “will be implemented in a way that preserves freedom of expression, fair process, and privacy.”


Report sparks mixed reactions

As in previous years, the report drew a mixed response, with supporters insisting that the report is essential for the protection of US economic interests. Critics, meanwhile, argue that the document is too heavily influenced by industry groups, and that it wrongly pushes developing countries into adopting US-style IP policies and legislation that could be detrimental to their public policy objectives, particularly in areas such as access to essential medicines.

“The Special 301 process continues to be effective in gaining high-level attention from our trading partners - attention that is needed to redress intellectual property violations and market access concerns,”  Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said in a statement, a sentiment that was echoed by other industry groups.

Washington has sought “to reduce market access barriers that US pharmaceutical and medical device companies face in many countries, and to facilitate both affordable health care today and the innovation that assures improved health care tomorrow,” PhRMA added.

Similarly, Steven J. Metalitz - counsel to the International Intellectual Property Alliance - commented that the “USTR’s report signals strongly the Administration’s commitment to protect one of our nation’s most valuable assets.”

However, Rashmi Rangnath - from advocacy group Public Knowledge - criticised the report’s vagueness and the influence of industry groups,  arguing that the process “continues to force other countries to adopt particular legislation.”

Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) also noted that, “as has become tradition, the list of grievances and the 41 countries named on the various lists are largely driven by lobbying efforts of right holders.”

“The USTR Special 301 report continues to disparage countries for taking measures to restrain drug prices or limit reimbursements on new medicines,” KEI concluded.

ICTSD reporting; “Russia, China on top copyright pirates list again,” REUTERS, 30 April 2012.


-- 

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

thiru at keionline.org



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