US removes Phl from copyright watchlist

Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has been taken off the United States government’s list of countries tagged with intellectual property rights (IPR) problems amid reforms to enhance enforcement.

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced it has removed the Philippines from its Special 301 Watch List.

“Although significant challenges remain, the commitment of Philippine authorities and the results achieved merit this change of status,” the USTR said.

The Special 301 report released every year is a review of the state of IPR protection and enforcement of America’s trading partners.

A trading partner’s placement on the Priority Watch List or Watch List indicates that particular problems exist in that country or economy with respect to IPR protection, enforcement or market access for persons relying on intellectual property.

Trading partners on the Priority Watch List become the focus of increased bilateral attention concerning the problem areas.

The Philippines has appeared on the Watch List or Priority Watch List since 1994.

The country was first listed in the report in 1989.

The USTR decided to remove the Philippines from the list given the government’s efforts to improve IPR enforcement.

“In recent years, the government has enacted a series of significant legislative and regulatory reforms to enhance the protection and enforcement of IPR in the Philippines,” the USTR said.

It noted that Philippine authorities have also made laudable civil and administrative enforcement gains.

The USTR added the US government will continue to engage with the Philippines to address unresolved and future challenges.

The USTR is due to release its full report on intellectual property offenders later this week.

US business groups are lobbying for India to be named the top offender, the spot that Ukraine was given last year.

Since the last report came out a year ago, the US has also removed Israel from the intellectual property watch list.

Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) director general Ricardo Blancaflor said the government’s efforts, particularly of agencies that are part of the national committee on IPR including the Optical Media Board, Philippine National Police, Food and Drug Administration and the National Telecommunications Commission, have paid off.

“The wholistic approach was very effective in curbing piracy and fighting counterfeits. Enforcement is only the beginning in building respect for intellectual property,” he said.

Blancaflor said the country’s removal from the Watch List not only reinforces the country’s position as the champion in IPR enforcement in the Southeast Asian region, but also creates a more attractive business environment.

“Removal from the Watch List creates the proper investment climate. It reflects a vibrant rule of law system where foreign trading partners can feel secure in doing business in the country,” he said.

Lawmakers hailed the removal of the Philippines from the watch list, saying it will further boost investor confidence in the country.

“That’s most welcome since it is bound to improve our image as a good place to do business,” Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said.

Sen. Grace Poe echoed the optimism that it will encourage more businessmen to invest in the country.

“That is certainly a leap forward towards one of our goals which is to encourage more investors, both foreign and domestic, to invest in our country,” Poe said.

“Removing us from the watch list gives us a better leverage in the international business community. We need to ensure that we encourage and increase that confidence with additional legislation that is business friendly,” she added.

Optical Media Board chairman Ronnie Ricketts said the removal of the Philippines from the watch list sends the message that intellectual property is respected in the country.

“It sends a strong signal that products are safe in the Philippines,” he said.

Ricketts said the removal from the watch list was a product of efforts by the OMB and other concerned government agencies in the Philippines.

Ricketts said he went to Washington on the invitation of the US embassy in Manila to explain the efforts of the OMB and other agencies in the Philippines in protecting intellectual property rights. – Christina Mendez, Reinir Padua, Reuters

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