Consumers International IP Watch List 2009

Posted by Pranesh Prakash at Jun 05, 2009 09:25 AM |
In response to the US Special 301 report, Consumers International brought out an IP Watch List. CIS contributed the India Country Report for the Watch List.

Every year the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) publishes a report known as the Special 301 Report, documenting IP regimes in various countries, and publishing a list of those countries which do not afford 'adequate and effective' protection for US intellectual property.  This year Consumers International, which set up the A2K Network, published a counter-report, the IP Watch List 2009 for which the India report [pdf here] was prepared by the Centre for Internet and Society.  While the Special 301 Report labels India a "Priority Watch List" country (meaning that it has an IP regime least conducive to the trade interests of the United States), the Consumers International report holds India to have the most consumer-friendly and balanced IP regulation amongst the sixteen countries surveyed.  The CI report lambasts the USTR's attempts to make countries comply with unreasonable demands which go over and above the countries' international obligations.  For instance, the WIPO Internet Treaties, which have been criticised by many, is sought to be imposed on countries like Israel, India, and Canada.  Prof. Michael Geist of the University of  Ottawa even notes that piracy levels and accession to the WCT and WPPT do not seem to be correlated: "In fact, only five countries that have ratified the WIPO Internet treaties have software piracy rates lower than Canada."  Still, the USTR has placed both India, whose IP laws are being praised by Consumers International and Canada, which has low piracy rates even by the accounts of the notoriously propagandist BSA, have both been placed in the Priority Watch List.  The reasons for doing so are not all that unclear if we look at who really shapes the USTR's Special 301 report.

The India section of the USTR Special 301 report [pdf] (pp. 18-19) notes:
"India will remain on the Priority Watch List in 2009. India has made progress on improving its IPR infrastructure, including through the modernization of its IP offices and the introduction of an e-filing system for trademark and patent applications. Further, the IP offices have started the process of digitization of intellectual property files. In addition, the Indian ministerial committee on IPR enforcement has supported the creation of specialized IPR police units. Customs enforcement has also improved through the implementation of the 2007 IPR (Imported Goods) Enforcement Rules as well as by seizures of unlicensed copyrighted goods intended for export. However, the United States remains concerned about weak IPR protection and enforcement in India. The United States continues to urge India to improve its IPR regime by providing stronger protection for copyrights and patents, as well as effective protection against unfair commercial use of undisclosed test and other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agrochemical products. The United States encourages India to enact legislation in the near term to strengthen its copyright laws and implement the provisions of the WIPO Internet Treaties. The United States also encourages India to improve its IPR enforcement system by enacting effective optical disc legislation to combat optical disc piracy. Piracy and counterfeiting, including of pharmaceuticals, remain a serious problem in India. India’s criminal IPR enforcement regime remains weak. Police action against those engaged in manufacturing, distributing, or selling pirated and counterfeit goods, and expeditious judicial dispositions for IPR infringement and imposition of deterrent-level sentences, is needed. As counterfeit medicines are a serious problem in India, the United States is encouraged by the recent passage of the Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Act 2008 that will increase penalties for spurious and adulterated pharmaceuticals. The United States urges India to strengthen its IPR regime and stands ready to work with India on these issues during the coming year."

Large chunks of it seem to have been 'borrowed' from the IIPA submissions.  The IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance), which is made up of US-based IP-maximalist lobbyists like the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, National Music Publishers Association, Association of American Publishers, and Business Software Alliance, is a body that was created to lobby the USTR to impose trade sanctions on those countries which did not follow the path that IIPA thought best for those countries.
Interestingly, the IIPA submissions talk not of IIPA's concern about weak IPR protection and enforcement in India, but instead states: "the United States remains concerned about weak IPR protection and enforcement in India".  This exact line even manages to finds itself in the USTR Special 301 report.  Many IIPA complaints find themselves as USTR recommendations, including: a) fast-track judical dispositions of IP cases; b) special laws against optical disc piracy; c) ratification of the WCT and WPPT (the "WIPO Internet Treaties"); d) increased criminal enforcement of intellectual property.

Thus, the Special 301 report emerges as a discredited report that the US's trade partners should not (and by many accounts do not) pay attention to.  Measurement of IP balance and consumer-friendliness such as the Consumers International IP Watch List are more important, and should eventually lead to a measurement index for Access to Knowledge.