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3 May 2009

Philippines may be removed from US copyright watch list

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The US government has kept the Philippines on the low-level watch list of countries deemed wanting in the fight against copyright piracy in a yearly report released Friday, ignoring calls from American lobby groups to include Manila with those seen to have worsening intellectual property rights violations, reported local daily Business World.

Washington has also tagged the Philippines and four other countries for an out-of-cycle review this year in which anti-piracy efforts will be evaluated that could lead to Manila being removed from the annual listing.

The Philippines had previously undergone a review in early 2006, resulting in its transfer from the priority watch list to the ordinary watch list.

The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines declined to comment, prefering to release a statement on Monday. It had said in comments to the US Trade Representative Office that state agencies confiscated more counterfeit goods in 2008 and that measures were being taken to train judges to handle IP cases.

Earlier, American lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) had recommended that Philippines be tagged as a "priority foreign country" for passing the new cheaper medicines law and its implementing rules. That distinction would have meant Washington could impose barriers against Philippine exports as punishment.

Another group, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) had separately recommended that the Philippines be placed on the priority watch list.

Instead, Washington has retained the Philippines on the ordinary watch list for 2009 but echoed concerns raised by the lobby groups.

"The United States is troubled by the amendments to the patent provisions in the Philippines Intellectual Property Law only as they apply to pharmaceuticals. The amendment significantly weakens patent protection for pharmaceutical products," the report stated.

"Unfortunately, despite the continuing efforts of some Philippine officials — notably, in the Intellectual Property Office, Optical Media Board, and Customs — to improve enforcement, there is no true deterrent mechanism in place to dissuade IPR infringers from their illegal activities. Additionally, the digital environment has created more challenges that the Government has not addressed, such as peer-to-peer piracy, mobile device piracy, and illegal camcording," the report stated further.

The report also stated the Philippines will join Fiji, Israel, Poland and Saudi Arabia as among those whose policies will be reviewed this year.

With the 2009 listing, the Philippines has now been on the watch list for four years in a row. The country was formerly in the "priority watch list" from 2001 to 2005.

The new report lumps the Philippines with 32 others that include Malaysia and Vietnam. It considers Manila’s copyright protection regime as better than those of Canada, India, China, neighbors Indonesia and Thailand and seven others.

This year, Washington removed South Korea from the listing, "in recognition of the significant improvements it has made during the past year".

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, in a statement released along with the report, urged governments to persevere with anti-piracy measures despite the global economic downturn.

"In this time of economic uncertainty, we need to redouble our efforts to work with all of our trading partners — even our closest allies and neighbors such as Canada — to enhance protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in the context of a rules-based trading system," Kirk said.

The Philippines was among the 33 US trading partners on the lower level Watch List, "meriting bilateral attention to address the underlying IPR problems." Others on the list are Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Twelve countries on this year’s Priority Watch List are China, Russia, Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, and Venezuela. These countries do not provide an adequate level of IPR protection or enforcement, or market access for persons relying on intellectual property protection," Kirk’s office said.





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