On World Intellectual Property Day i.e. 26th April, 2016, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released the 2016 “Special 301” Report on the global state of intellectual property rights protection and enforcement.
The USTR official press release quotes Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative as having said “Intellectual property is a critical source of economic growth and high-quality jobs for the United States, and it is more important than ever to prevent foreign governments and competitors from ripping off United States innovators who are trying to support high-paying jobs by exporting their goods and services to consumers around the world”
The press release indicates that in this year’s report, trading partners that are on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding insufficient IPR protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on intellectual property protection.
11 countries have been named on the Priority Watch List, these include Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela. According to the 301 report these countries will be the subject of particularly intense bilateral engagement during the coming year.
23 other trading partners are also on the watch list and some of them include Brazil, Canada, Pakistan, Switzerland, etc.
Some of the significant elements of the 2016 Special 301 Report as indentified by the Press release are reproduced below:
- USTR continues to place China on the Priority Watch List. China has undertaken wide-ranging intellectual property law reform efforts and some positive enforcement initiatives, but both longstanding and new IPR concerns merit increased attention including with respect to trade secret theft, rampant online piracy and counterfeiting, continued high levels of physical pirated and counterfeit goods, and localization requirements that condition market access on use of IPR developed in or transferred to China.
- India also remains on the Priority Watch List this year for lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its IPR framework despite more robust engagement and positive steps forward on IPR protection and enforcement undertaken by the Government of India. USTR retains the option of conducting an OCR of India should developments—either positive or negative—weigh in favor of a review in advance of the annual cycle.
- USTR adds Switzerland to the Watch List this year. While Switzerland is generally a strong partner on IP issues, copyright holders have essentially been prevented from enforcing their rights against online infringers and Switzerland has become an increasingly popular host country for infringing websites.
One of the biggest stinging points about the report for India is the fact that the report identifies Pakistan as having taken significant steps to improve IPR protection and enforcement including establishing specialized IPR courts, establishing a timeline to draft and implement amendments to IPR laws, improving border enforcement procedures, undertaking public awareness programs on IPR protection, and committing to regular action-oriented engagement with the U.S. government and stakeholders.
If we are to take this report into consideration, it clearly looks like the Indian government has landed itself between the devil and the deep blue sea. At home, the government is already being criticized on issues ranging from allegations of being unsupportive to the Indian generic industry; secretly assuring US lobby groups that India would not grant Compulsory Licenses for commercial purposes, sending Indian Patent examiners to be trained by the USPTO, etc. Now, the “Special 301” report appears to indicate that none of these measures are really affecting the perception of the US.
2016 is a year of expectations for Indian IP, we now need to see how the IP scenario in India will change based on reports such as these and a self realized goals of the government.
The “Special 301” report can be accessed here.
Authored by Gaurav Mishra.
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