31 January 2007

Third Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy

Time was when it was the Americans who took the lead with IPR enforcement and the rest of the world tagged on behind. Not so much now. According to Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen, there are some pretty radical proposals coming out of Europe and Japan (see "Japan Resurfaces Global Enforcement Framework; EU Refers to FTAs" on the Intellectual Property Watch website).

Although it does not appear to have said so in terms, speakers from the European Commission hinted that favourable access to the European market by countries in Asia, South America and the former Soviet Union will be conditional upon adherence to “international standards" in IPR protection and enforcement. Free trade agreements in future will contain detailed obligations in that area particularly with regard to the protection of designs and designations of origin. The only concession to the developing world is that the Doha consensus of 14 Nov 2001 on access to medicines will not be disturbed.

Hisamtsu Arai, former Secretary-General of the Intellectual Property Strategy Secretariat in Japan, proposed a treaty on non-proliferation of counterfeit and pirated goods. The draft treaty would require contracting parties to suppress manufacturing and inhibit distribution of counterfeit and pirate goods as well as dampening demand through "consumer education" (aka propaganda). Apparently the US rep welcomed the idea in principle but cast a fair volume of cold water on its viability. Pity really. The Japanese have come up with some very good ideas in the past which the rest of us would have done well to adopt. Sui generis protection of computer programs canvassed 20 years ago is one such that springs to mind.

I am very nervous of both approaches. IPR are monopolies and as such they can stunt development. That may preserve a few jobs in Smokestackland for a little while but it imposes a cost on Smolestackland consumers. On verra.

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