South Africa The Only BRICS Country Not On Obama’s Intellectual Property Shame List

By Dana Sanchez Published: April 28, 2016, 5:01 pm
Obama's intellectual property shame listImage:

Egypt and Algeria are on U.S. President Barack Obama’s annual list of countries with the worst records of preventing intellectual property theft — a list that aims to shame governments into updating their copyright laws and preventing piracy and counterfeiting, Reuters reported.

By no means the worst offenders, Egypt and Algeria are in the company of BRICS countries Brazil, China, Russia and India, along with Switzerland, which was cited for failing to curb online copyright infringements.

The Obama administration plans to develop by June a set of 11 different action plans to improve protection of U.S. intellectual property rights, Politico reported.

U.S.-held intellectual property added about $5 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product in 2010 — about 34 percent contribution — and supported 40 million jobs in IP-intensive industries, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, which released the list.

“Ingenuity and innovation serve as the foundations upon which we will continue to grow our economies and bridge our cultural identities,” Obama said Tuesday as he commemorated World Intellectual Property Day, or World IP Day, , according to a WhiteHouse blog. That includes “music, movies that inspire us, the literature that moves us, or the technologies we rely on each day,” Obama said.

The U.S. listed 11 countries on a “Priority Watch List” that it said will be the subject of intense bilateral engagement in the coming year: Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

China has undertaken some intellectual property law reforms, but there is still trade secret theft, rampant piracy and counterfeiting of online and physical goods that warrant the highest level of scrutiny, Reuters reported. Then there’s newer requirements that make market access conditional on use of intellectual property IP developed in or transferred to China.

There are 23 more countries with other IP problems on the “Watch List”: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, Reuters reported.

“Intellectual property is a critical source of economic growth and high-quality jobs for the U.S., and it is more important than ever to prevent foreign governments and competitors from ripping off U.S. innovators who are trying to support high-paying jobs by exporting their goods and services to consumers around the world,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

Froman said his office will develop action plans this year with concrete benchmarks “to hold countries accountable for IP-related trade practices that disadvantage American creators and innovators,” Politico reported.

“Thankfully, we’ve got stronger and better tools to carry out our task this year and in the years to come,” he said at an event with film, music and video game industry representatives to roll out the agency’s annual report on the worst intellectual property rights violators.

Congress required the action plans as part of the recently-approved customs and enforcement law for each country that has been on the agency’s “priority watch list” for at least a year.

All 11 countries on the priority watch list including Algeria have been there for at least a year and most for much longer than that, Politico reported. The new law requires the trade representative to come up with the action plans by the end of June and empowers the president to “take appropriate action” if countries have not substantially improved their behavior within a year.

So who is the world’s authority on intellectual property?

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is the world’s most authoritative legal instrument on intellectual property, according to Chidi Oguamanam, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. TRIPS falls under the World Trade Organisation, which sets the rules for trade between countries, Oguamanam said in an IP-Watch column. The U.N. also has an agency specializing in intellectual property rights — the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The two bodies signed a cooperation agreement in 1996.

But the trade agreement doesn’t mention traditional knowledge — something that’s important in Africa, home to many of the world’s indigenous communities. This is why developing countries are sensitive about protecting their genetic resources and traditional knowledge, Oguamanam said.

A gap in the rules

Foreign corporations and researchers often capitalize on the traditional medicinal and agricultural uses of genetic resources to develop blockbuster products, IP-Watch reported. Some African examples include:

  • South Africa’s hoodia cactus, which is traditionally used for appetite suppression.
  • Madagascar’s rosy periwinkle, used to make drugs that treat some cancers. It is also found in other parts of the world.
  • Endod berry, a traditional soap plant that is used to treat schistosomiasis.
  • Teff, a traditional cereal grain with exceptional nutritional value. It is grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
  • Nigerian cowpea species developed by local farmers.

All of these examples have attracted international interest. This has prompted indigenous and local communities to spar with foreigners over the benefits that are due to them.

In the absence of clear rules, a process called “biopiracy” has emerged. Biopirates appropriate genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledge by using patents. Sometimes these are turned into blockbuster products. Local communities don’t benefit at all.



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