US upgrades Thailand for improved IP protection

US upgrades Thailand for improved IP protection

A road roller crushes 300 tonnes of pirated electrical goods, luxury products and other items worth 141 million baht at an event staged in March this year at an army base in Bangkok. (Post file photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
A road roller crushes 300 tonnes of pirated electrical goods, luxury products and other items worth 141 million baht at an event staged in March this year at an army base in Bangkok. (Post file photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

WASHINGTON: The United States has removed Thailand from its Priority Watch List of intellectual property (IP) violators in recognition of the country's efforts to improve IP protection and enforcement.

After 10 years in the company of a dozen countries deemed to have the world's worst IP protection, the country has been upgraded to the Watch List.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer made the announcement on Friday following a so-called Special 301 review. It refers to Section 301 of the US Trade Act, under which countries that fail to combat IP violations cound face trade sanctions.

"A key objective of the Trump Administration's trade policy is ensuring that US owners of intellectual property (IP) have a full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP around the globe," Mr Lighthizer said a statement released by the office of the USTR. 

"The key to promoting innovation is protecting intellectual property. We welcome the corrective actions that Thailand has taken and look forward to continuing to work with Thailand to resolve our remaining IP concerns."

Successive Thai governments have expressed a determination to improve anti-piracy enforcement and other measures in order to avoid the risk of US sanctions. Their focus has been mainly on piracy of movies, music and software. Staged photo opportunities at which fake goods are destroyed are routine but do little to deter pirates.

While counterfeiting remains a problem and a major concern of the US entertainment, media and software industries, Thailand's stance on pharmaceuticals is the real thorn in Washington's side.

Thailand is among a number of developing countries that have angered the US pharmaceutical industry, which holds huge sway over American lawmakers, by using compulsory licensing, which is allowed under world trade rules, to make essential drugs available at affordable prices.

Mr Lighthizer said the US government had been "closely engaging" with Thailand on improving IP protection and enforcement as part of the bilateral US-Thailand Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

"This engagement has yielded results on resolving US IP concerns across a range of issues, including on enforcement, patents and pharmaceuticals, trademarks and copyright," he said.

He noted that the country had established an inter-agency National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy and a subcommittee on enforcement against IP infringement, led by the prime minister and a deputy prime minister, respectively. 

"This strong level of interest from the highest levels of the government led to improved coordination among government entities, as well as enhanced and sustained enforcement efforts to combat counterfeit and pirated goods throughout the country," he said.

Thailand, he added, had also been taking steps to address backlogs in patent and trademark applications, including significantly increasing the number of examiners and streamlining regulations.

As well, the country has joined the Madrid Protocol, making it easier for US companies to apply for trademarks, and taken steps to address concerns regarding online piracy affecting the US content industry.

The report also noted "a commitment from Thailand to improve transparency related to pharmaceutical issues", such as taking stakeholder input into account as it considers amendments to the Drug Act.

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