Zoellick hits RP violations of IPRs

The Philippine Star 05/06/2005

Zoellick hits RP violations of IPRs

By Aurea Calica

The Philippines is not doing enough to curb violations of intellectual property rights (IPRs), particularly in securing convictions, a visiting United States official said yesterday.

In a press briefing, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said while the US recognized the important steps Manila has taken to address intellectual piracy, Washington would like to see a more vigorous campaign against IPR violations.

Aside from laws that lack teeth, Zoellick also noted that most people apprehended for IPR-related offenses usually get away with a slap on the wrist.

"There’s been some legislation passed, there have been some important enforcement actions. (But) we have been concerned that the prosecutions of those enforcement actions have not been completed so that people are arrested but, frankly, they don’t pay much of a penalty for it," Zoellick said.

He added that the US government will review the Philippines’ efforts over the next six months.

The US government decided to keep the Philippines on its primary watch list of countries violating IPR and the country is in danger of suffering economic sanctions due to this, according to official data released by the US Embassy recently.

The Philippines will thus remain on the US government’s 2005 Priority Watch List, which is just a rung below the Super 301 Watch List of countries found to be blatantly violating copyright laws. The violators face immediate economic backlash.

Despite the Philippine government’s "significant progress" in addressing piracy in 2004, Washington remains bothered by the continued proliferation of pirated products, the embassy reported.

"The US industry continues to raise serious concerns about high levels of copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting, including book piracy, increasing levels of pirated optical media imported into the country, and pervasive end-user software piracy," the report said.

The Philippines is a notorious market for pirated compact discs, video compact discs and digital video discs, most of which originate from other countries in Southeast Asia.

The US Embassy report also took note of the Philippine government’s success in its drive against piracy through the efforts of the Videogram Regulatory Board, Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the passage of the Optical Media Act this year.

"However, the US copyright and trademark industries also report continued difficulty protecting their rights through the Philippine legal system due to low conviction rates and imposition of non-deterrent sentences," the report said.

It said trademark infringement on a variety of product lines was widespread, with counterfeit merchandise openly available at both legitimate and illegitimate venues.

"The levels of illegal production and consumption of optical media remain consistently high. The US copyright industry estimated its losses due to copyright piracy in the Philippines at $139 million in 2004," the report said.

Although the US government is encouraged by the confiscation of optical discs worth over $8 million in 2004, the report said enforcement efforts such as raids and seizures often had only a temporary effect due to ineffective post-raid follow-up, including prosecution.

The US copyright industry also said that counterfeit goods from China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand continue to enter the Philippines in large quantities due to weak IPR border enforcement.

In response, the BoC created a permanent IPR unit in September 2003 to investigate all shipments of counterfeit and pirated goods, The US industry, however, said this IPR unit has had minimal success because it has had insufficient staff and other resources since its inception.

"It appears that domestic enforcement in general suffers from lack of sufficient resources, training and inter-agency coordination, which has led to ineffective post-raid management and a growing backlog of cases in the judicial system," the report noted.

The US government reiterated its call for the Philippines to make its domestic law consistent with its obligations under the World Intellectual Property Organization Internet Treaties, which Manila ratified in 2002.

Washington said it would use the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and the out-of-cycle review to assist the Philippine government in strengthening its IPR regime.

The Philippines enacted the Intellectual Property Code on June 6, 1997 to comply with its World Trade Organization treaty obligations and to respond to US concerns regarding intellectual property protection in the Philippines.

Philippine officials have also been protesting the country’s inclusion on the watch list, saying the US has been unfairly requiring the government to go beyond intellectual property protection standards required by international treaties.

They said the US failed to consider that the Philippines implemented both short-term and long-term solutions to address piracy and improve enforcement of IPR as well as it level of economic development when evaluating efforts to improve intellectual property protection.

source : Philippine Star

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