Enhancing cooperation in trade is key to combat piracy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Copies of popular brands of women bags sold on the Barceloneta beach. [Dino Geromella/Shutterstock]

Almost 10% of clothing and footwear sold in the EU are fakes and the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) defends the need for legally binding instruments to fight piracy when negotiating trade agreements with third countries, writes Christian Archambeau.

Christian Archambeau is Executive Director at European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). 

In recent years, international cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) has progressed from technical discussions to become an integral part of the relations between all countries and all trading blocs, including those between the EU and Latin America.

Since the annual trade flow between the two regions amounts to €10.7 billion, it is clearly important for all parties that IPRs are respected. It is, therefore, gratifying to see an increasing trend towards including provisions on the enforcement of IPRs within Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

Looking at the FTA in principle being negotiated between the EU and Mexico, for example, a dedicated text on border enforcement ensures the active involvement of customs authorities in targeting and identifying IPR infringements with respect to all goods under customs control. Furthermore, the trademark provisions take into account the EU approach on the possibility of seizing goods in transit.

In other regions, such as MERCOSUR, the EU has similar proposals, but there are still outstanding issues in sections relating to Civil and Administrative Enforcement of intellectual property rights.

It is important to emphasise that legally binding agreements, which are complex and often take a long time to negotiate, are only one of the measures that can be taken to level the playing field with regard to IP rights. Quite a lot can be done by the introduction of tools that simplify processes and by voluntary convergence of practices.

This kind of voluntary movement together often goes on quietly in the background, via bilateral agreements or through EU-funded IP projects in third countries and is a significant force in helping businesses, both large and small, to gain maximum competitive advantage from their IP rights, wherever they trade.

The EU and Latin American countries are already working actively on the issue of IP and counterfeiting. For example, in September last year, the Commission launched a four-year technical cooperation programme on Intellectual Property called ‘IP Key Latin America’ with an investment of €6 million. This programme is similar to other ones being run in Southeast Asia and China, and about one-third of the activities will tackle enforcement.

We don’t yet have figures for the scale of counterfeiting and the knock-on damage it causes to legitimate businesses in terms of jobs and economic growth, but just to take one example, our studies have shown that almost 10% clothing and footwear sold in the EU are fakes.

This is likely to be a significant problem also in Latin America, particularly given the huge importance of the textiles and clothing sectors in Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Another common feature of our work in third countries is to encourage participation in the major global IP databases, principally the four flagship tools dealing with trademark and design registration information as well as classification issues.

These are global tools containing information from over 60 offices. They give access to more than 50 million trademarks and in excess of 13 million designs and attract around two and a half million searches every month.

In a world where the digital market is increasingly important, there is a clear need for global regulation to address piracy and copyright issues. The European Observatory on Infringements of IP Rights, which has been part of the EUIPO since 2012 has carried out a number of studies showing the impact of infringements within the EU and on global trade.

A major report carried out in conjunction with the OECD shows that the international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods represents 2,5% of all world trade and within the EU it represents 5% of imports.

Reflecting on the increasingly diverse sources for IP rights, the shift towards data and digital downloads becoming the key assets, and the growth in Internet marketplaces helps shed light on why enforcement is such a significant challenge.

The situation is made even more complex at a time when offices have to cope with a vast increase in demand for IP rights in new and often unfamiliar areas of technology, with increasing numbers of applications coming from outside of Europe.

It is the EUIPO’s view that enhanced cooperation between trading blocs such as the EU and Latin-America and the involvement of all IP stakeholders including the enforcement agencies is the only way forward.

This kind of concentrated approach is vital if we are to successfully combat a global
a phenomenon that has evolved significantly with the advent of better technology.

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