By Trevor Little
July 10 2012
It seems like the worlds of politics and intellectual property have clashed on an almost weekly basis in 2012 – whether addressing trade embargoes as in the case of the HAVANA CLUB dispute, framing the debate on online piracy legislation in the instances of ACTA, PROTECT-IP and SOPA, or involving governmental input into the gTLD expansion. This week the trend continued: taking time out from his own trademark battle, President Obama signed into law an act that strengthens the penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs. Meanwhile, over the road from the White House, the House Foreign Affairs Committee launched an investigation into claims that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) allegedly supplied computers and other sensitive technology to Iran and North Korea.
Yesterday President Obama signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (S 3187), which incorporates several of the legislative recommendations from the administration's White Paper on Intellectual Property Enforcement Legislative Recommendations.
Welcoming the legislation, Victoria Espinel, US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, explained that the move “enhances penalties under Title 18 for trafficking in counterfeit drugs and directs the US Sentencing Commission to review and amend, if appropriate, its guidelines and policy statements related to offenses that involve counterfeit drugs. It allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that companies notify the agency if their drug has been counterfeited or stolen. In addition, the act allows the FDA to destroy, without the opportunity to export, counterfeit drugs distributed in small packages (valued at $2,500 or less).”
Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced an investigation into allegations that WIPO supplied Iran and North Korea with computers and other sensitive technology in violation of manufacturers' restrictions and in possible violation of UN sanctions. Ros-Lehtinen stated: “The revelation that a United Nations (UN) agency has been supplying the brutal regimes in Iran and North Korea with sensitive technology is deeply disturbing, and must be thoroughly investigated. Providing these thugs with sensitive technology has the potential to enable their dangerous agendas. This serious offence cannot go overlooked or unpunished… Despite the administration's claims to have made significant strides in reforming the UN, the UN’s actions tell a different story. Instead of throwing even more money at bad programs and hoping for the best, we need to condition our contributions to the UN on tangible reforms.”
The move follows last week’s confirmation, from the press office’s Patrick Ventrell, that the State Department was reviewing WIPO’s development projects, noting: “We’re working with both the director general and other member states to institute reforms that will ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented. And we’re working in New York to ensure that the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees play a more active role in advising international organisations on how to remain compliant with UN sanctions.”
Legal counsel for WIPO told Bloomberg that WIPO has a mandate from members to help developing countries modernise their IP offices, with Ian and North Korea receiving “standard information-technology equipment” after meeting WIPO’s needs-assessment and validation procedures – adding: “These programs did not include the type of technology or training prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions for the said countries.”
Yesterday, Eduardo del Buey, deputy spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN fielded questions on the issue, confirming: “WIPO has said that the technology it has provided is the same technology provided to all governments in the world in terms of maintaining capacity-building programmes which have been approved by 185 member states, and that standard technical assistance under this programme may include needs assessment, assistance and planning in the modernisation of technical infrastructure in IP offices and training for officials, the provision of WIPO software for IP office automation, the provision of standardised office equipment, etcetera.”
Nevertheless, he added: “As a matter of caution, however, and in light of concerns expressed recently, WIPO will in the future systematically refer relevant cases of technical assistance to countries under a UN sanctions regime to the UN Sanctions Committee.”
With the debate over online piracy potentially now spreading to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is clear that the intersection of trademarks and politics is set to continue in the second half of the year.
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