Co-Author Mackenzie Stout, J.D. Candidate 2014, Seattle University School of Law.
Personality rights are big business throughout the globe. Celebrities often license third parties the right to use their images and likenesses for thousands, even millions of dollars. For example, boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s personality rights were recently sold for $62 million. Yet, protection for these quasi-property rights varies from country-to-country, often limiting the degree to which celebrities, as well as ordinary persons and businesses, can protect their distinctive personal traits from unauthorized use at home and abroad.
Guernsey, the autonomous British possession and well-known tax haven island off the coast of France, recently made a bold move towards greater recognition of personality rights. By passing the Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance, 2012 (“Ordinance”), Guernsey now grants personality rights protection to several personality traits and parties not granted under most national legal systems. By establishing the first ever registry of personality and image rights, and giving a registrant (including non-personalities) the ability to register the personality and image of a personality they intend to commercially manage, the Ordinance gives many persons and businesses the potential ability to protect their personal traits throughout the world.
So how does Guernsey’s new personality rights laws provide these protections?
What’s Is Registrable? As mentioned, Guernsey’s Ordinance allows the registration of personalities and images in Guernsey as a property right, much like a trademark or copyright registration. Personalities that can be registered include: (1) natural persons; (2) legal persons; (3) joint personalities (two or more persons who are intrinsically linked in the eyes of the public); (4) groups (whose membership can be interchangeable); and (5) human or non-human fictional characters. Such registration eligibility provides several advantages. First, the personality of a deceased natural person can be registered for up to 100 years after a person’s death and there is no fame or public recognition threshold necessary for registration. This means that any personage, no matter how well known, can be registered. Second, legal entities, such as businesses, foundations, and trusts, are now eligible to register as personalities, giving them the same rights and privileges to protect their personal traits as actual people.
Images associated with a registered personality may also be registered. Registrable images include an individual’s name or alias, voice, signature, likeness, appearance, silhouette, feature, face and even mannerisms. The proprietor of a registered personality has exclusive rights in the images registered against or associated with that personality. Even unregistered images may be protected if they are closely related to the personality. However, like any trademark or copyright registration, registering a personality or image in Guernsey’s Image Rights Register (“Register”) gives a proprietor of a personality or image rights more convincing evidence of ownership over such personality or image.
How Can a Personality or Image be Registered? A proprietor can register their personality or image rights in Guernsey in person or online. Like trademarks and copyright, an applicant should first conduct a search (known as clearance) for their personality rights in the Register, searching existing registrations for personalities and images that may preclude their own registration. If a personality or image registration application is accepted by the Guernsey Intellectual Property Office, it is published on the Register for one month, during which any person or entity may comment on and/or file a notice of opposition against the application. If no opposition is filed, the personality or image is registered with the effective date being the original filing date of the personality or image application. A personality or image registration is valid for ten years, and is renewable for subsequent ten-year periods.
How Do You Enforce Your Rights in a Registered Personality or Image? A registrant of a personality or image under the Ordinance would have to likely seek enforcement through Guernsey’s legal system, and then obtain a foreign enforcement of such a judgment abroad in order to effectively utilize Guernsey’s new image rights laws. A registrant may only file an infringement proceeding in Guernsey under the Ordinance if: (a) an infringing image is used for a commercial purpose or financial benefit; and (b) the infringing image is: (i) identical or similar to the protected image; (ii) confusingly similar to the protected image; or (iii) similar to the protected image and takes advantage of or is detrimental to the distinctive character or reputation of the registered personality. Exceptions to such infringement include any use of a registered personality or image related to education, news reporting, or incidental inclusions, where, for example, an image of the registered personality appears in the background of a television segment unrelated to the image or the registered personality.
If a registrant is able to succeed in a legal proceeding in Guernsey, they would likely need to seek foreign enforcement of such judgment abroad in order to effectively enforce their personality rights. As the vast majority of infringers will likely not be domiciled in Guernsey, a registrant will likely need to have a foreign Court enforce their Guernsey judgment in order to enforce their Guernsey image rights registration(s) abroad. The chances of being able to obtain such foreign enforcement depend on a number of factors including reciprocal enforcement arrangements between Guernsey and the country where the infringing party is domiciled, as well as the foreign jurisdiction’s own personality rights laws.
What’s The Takeaway? The implications of Guernsey’s Ordinance have yet to be fully realized, but any person or business wishing to protect their personality rights or limit their liability from the same should pay close attention to the Ordinance’s new legislation. Although Guernsey’ Ordinance appears to expand the types of entities and personal traits that qualify for personality rights, determining whether a foreign Court will recognize these new personality rights in their own jurisdiction remains to be seen. Persons and businesses wishing to obtain personality and image registrations in Guernsey should work closely with qualified counsel in order to better ensure proper registration of such rights.
Today, I had the privilege to provide a guest contribution to one of my favorite legal blogs, Art and Artifice, on a story about a U.S. weapons manufacturer who is in a copyright dispute with the Italian government over an advertisement depicting Michelangelo’s David toting the manufacturer’s rifle. Check it out at http://aandalawblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/armalite-in-italys-sights-over-gun.html.
Late last month, the European Commission approved for publication (pre-registration) a geographical indication (GI) application for the Danish cheese HAVARTI. This raised concern amongst interested industry groups, and should cause concern amongst all export-focused businesses. Similar to trademarks, and particularly certification marks, GIs are legal protection granting producers of a particular type of product from a specific geographical region the exclusive right to use the geographical region’s name (or a regionally-known name) on their products and in related promotions. Being an exclusive right, GIs exclude producers from other regions from labeling and marketing similar or identical products under the same GI name. This means, for example, that a U.S. sparkling wine can never be sold as CHAMPAGNE in the EU, or a Kenyan tea as DARJEELING in India. If registered, the EU HAVARTI GI would exclude non-Danish cheese producers from labeling and promoting their Havarti cheeses in the EU as HAVARTI.
So what’s concerning about the potential EU HAVARTI GI registration for non-dairy businesses? Well, industry groups such as the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) argue that allowing the EU HAVARTI GI application to be registered would contravene international standards by prohibiting non-Danish cheese producers from labeling and promoting their own Havarti cheeses in the EU as HAVARTI, even if they meet recognized international Havarti cheese production standards. From an intellectual property perspective, the registration would arguably expand EU GI protections to common (generic) named products. Commonly named GIs such as DIJON for mustard and CHEDDAR for cheese have traditionally been restricted from GI protection due to their common vernacular usage. HAVARTI is a widely known cheese variety this is arguably as generic as these other excluded food names. By allowing HARVARTI’s potential GI registration, the European Commission could possibly allow other generic named products to be registered as GIs, thereby hindering the promotional efforts, and ultimately success of many foreign goods in the EU.
Although the potential HAVARTI EU GI registration only directly impacts the global dairy industry and the EU market, it does underscore general issues all export-focused businesses should be aware of concerning GIs. Many businesses are unfamiliar with GIs, much less the extent to which GIs can impact their expansion and success in new foreign markets. GIs are granted legal protections in multiple countries for a wide array of goods, and can significantly impact a business’ foreign operations.
Below are some GI issues businesses should consider when entering new foreign markets:
Know the Practical Differences Between GIs and Trademarks. Before understanding what GIs restrictions a business may face in a foreign market, a business needs to recognize how GIs and trademarks differ. Unlike trademarks, GIs do not indicate or represent a individual business or their goods and services. They instead represent protections for the local conditions—natural or human-made (depending on the country)—that give products from a region their qualities and reputation. Based on these localized and natural characteristics, GIs cannot be extended, shared, or transferred to producers outside the region, and cannot be cancelled once registered. Further, in many countries that grant GIs legal protection such as the EU, member state governments, not individual producers or businesses, prosecute GI infringement claims. This means a foreign business can be assured that their unauthorized use of a registered GI in a foreign market will more likely subject them to a greater risk of legal action in that country compared to the threat of a lawsuit from a individual trademark owner.
The bottom line is that GIs prohibit exporting businesses from promoting and selling their goods in a particular country under a registered GI without much recourse.
Determine if an Export Market Recognize GIs—and to What Degree. After understanding the important differences between GIs and trademarks, businesses need to then evaluate whether the markets they wish to export to have GI protections and the extent of such protections. Nearly all countries recognize GIs for wines and alcoholic beverages through their World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments. Under Articles 22 and 23 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), WTO member states are required to extend specific GI protections for wines and alcoholic beverages, and to a reduced degree other agricultural and natural products. Most common law jurisdictions (U.S., Australia, and Japan, etc.) generally only extend GI protections to wines and alcohol beverages based on their WTO commitments. Yet, many countries, including several substantial markets, have gone beyond TRIPS’ minimum standards by providing enhanced GI protections to non-wine and alcohol agricultural products, and even non-agricultural products. The EU, China, India, and Russia, among others, extend the same level of legal protection to all agricultural and natural product GIs. Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Switzerland even extend GI protections to human made goods such as handcrafts and textiles.
Determine if There are Existing GI Registrations for Your Goods. Once a business determines whether the market(s) they wish to export their goods possess GI protections, they must evaluate whether the names of the goods they wish to use on their goods and related promotions are registered GIs. To do so, businesses must examine national GI registers in such export market(s).
Below are GI registers for some of the world’s major GI jurisdictions.
National GI Register
|National Institute of Industrial Property (Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial -INPI)|
|General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine|
|The Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks|
|Federal Institute of Industrial Property|
In recent months, there have been a number of stories from around the world about trademark applications, registrations and uses that have been critically questioned, and in some cases rejected, based on their offensive cultural or historical meaning.
Here are just a few stories that I have come across in the past couple of months. They highlight important country-specific cultural and historical sensitivities businesses should take into consideration when deciding how to brand, and register their trademarks abroad.
- The U.S. football team the Washington Redskins have been under growing pressure from Native American organizations, media and sport commentators, and even comments from President Obama, that their team name be changed, and their trademark registrations in that name cancelled, based on the team name’s insensitive characterization of Native Americans (FYI, The National Congress of American Indians came up with some model logos that give a unique and appropriate juxtaposition to show the degrading nature of Native American sport team names).
- Closer to my home, the Portland, Oregon-based Asian-American rock band THE SLANTS were refused trademark registration of their band name by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board based on the name being a “derogatory reference to people of Asian descent.”
Similar trends are also happening around the world.
- Last week, the IP blog The IPKat had a great posting about how an Italian citizen living in Norway and an Italian regional wine industry association helped to put enough pressure on a Swedish wine producer selling under the mark MAFIOZO to stop using the mark. Beyond the winemaker’s alleged violation of European Union geographical indication protections, the producer was publicly criticized for using a mark that connotes historical and ongoing Italian organized crime that has resulted in thousands of deaths.
- Lastly, late last month, family members of the deceased Colombian drug lord Pablo Emilio Escobar Gavira submitted a trademark application to Colombia’s Commission of Industry and Commerce to register the full name of the former drug lord in International Class 41. The Commission rejected the application stating that granting the mark would be “immoral and subvert public order.” Although it was only one single trademark application, many world news outlets reported the story, even comparing the attempt to register Mr. Escobar’s name as registering Hitler as a trademark (Coincidently, I recently wrote about how a Thai fast food restaurant tried (and failed) to use such branding).
What’s the Takeaway? All of these recent stories highlight how a country’s historical and cultural sensitivities can not only prevent obtaining legal protections for a trademark, but can also cause additional unforeseen damage through negative public relations and rebranding costs. As a trademark provides a means for the public to identify a business’ goods and services, choosing a word, name or phrase that that is culturally or historically insensitive can almost guarantee negative outcomes, both at home and abroad.
In the context of developing foreign markets for goods and services, understanding and respecting the cultural and historical sensitivities of a particular country is essential to obtaining trademark protection in that country, and more importantly, helping to develop a successful international brand. As with all other aspects of entering into new foreign markets, businesses should do their homework and ensure the mark or marks they wish to register and use abroad are not offensive. Doing so is a relatively inexpensive insurance policy for businesses to prevent complications in expanding abroad.
What does your business do to protect itself from insensitive branding abroad?
In recent years, many national customs offices have established notification procedures to allow IP rights holders the ability to alert customs officials of their IP rights in order to assist them in their import inspection activities. Like Internet Service Provider takedown requests on the Internet (more information about these procedures), IP customs office notifications is a tool for IP rights holders to protect their IP rights abroad by reducing the global spread of infringing goods and content by preventing its cross-border transit—and in many cases, assisting in its destruction. However, to utilize such protection measures, an IP rights holder must ask themselves:
- Can you submit such a notification in a particular country?
- Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system?
- Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect?
- What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements?
Can you submit a IP customs notification? Generally, an IP rights holder can only submit an IP customs notification to a foreign customs office if their IP qualifies for protection in that foreign country. Determining if particular IP qualifies for protection in a country depends on the type of IP the rights holder wishes to protect and to what extent the rights holder has secured foreign legal protections. Here is how it breaks down:
Trademarks. If an IP rights holder wants to submit a foreign customs notification to protect a trademark or service mark in another country, they usually need to have registered that mark in the IP office of that specific country or through a centralized international registration mechanism like the Madrid Protocol (more information about the Madrid Protocol). This is because trademark protection is territorial, meaning that a trademark or service mark registration only grants its owner rights in the mark in the territory of the registering country. So for example, if a U.S. company registers its trademark in the U.S. for particular goods or services and wishes to protect that trademark against infringing imports into New Zealand, it must also register that mark through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand or the Madrid Protocol in order to submit a trademark notification to the New Zealand Customs Service.
Of course there are some important exceptions to this territoriality requirement to keep in mind. The European Union maintains a community-wide trademark system (Community Trade Mark) allowing one community registration to qualify for customs notification registration in all EU member states (a list of EU member states is available here). The African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) also maintains a community trademark system where a single OAPI community mark registration is recognized in 16 African nations (a list of EU member states is available here).
Patents. Like trademarks, a patent rights holder must generally have a registered patent in the country to which they wish to register an IP customs notification. Unlike trademarks, however, there are no current community registration exceptions. As a result, patent rights holders must register their patents in the country to which they wish to register their IP customs notifications.
Trade Secrets: Generally, as trade secrets require that their owners keep the content of their secrets confidential in order to maintain its legal protections, any disclosure of such secrets to customs officials likely eliminates such secrets’ protections. Therefore, there does not appear to be any national customs IP notification systems that permit trade secret notification.
Copyright. Unlike trademarks and patents, a work qualifying for copyright protection in one country may qualify for copyright protection in other countries in order to allow foreign customs notification registration. However, depending on the country, foreign copyright authors may need to file a copyright registration in order to submit an IP customs notification. A work qualifies for international copyright protection under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) when it becomes attached. Attachment requires that the author of the work be a national of a Berne Convention country (Berne Convention countries), the author is a habitual resident of a Berne Convention country, that the work is first published in a Berne Convention country, or that the work is published in a Berne Convention country within 30 days after an initial publishing in a non-Berne Convention country. If a work is attached through any of these means, it is treated as if the work originated in each Berne Convention country, and is then subject to each Berne Convention country’s copyright protection requirements in order to qualify for copyright protection in that specific country.
If a work qualifies as an attached work under the Berne Convention and the IP rights holder wishes to register their protected work in a foreign Berne Convention country customs office, they will be able to file a customs registration without having authored the work in the foreign Berne Convention country. Yet, as mentioned above, countries differ on national copyright registration requirements for IP customs notifications. Australia, for example, does not require Australian copyright registration prior to submitting a customs notification application to the Australian Customs Service. However, several major markets, such as the U.S., China and India, require that copyrighted works be registered in their country prior to registering an IP customs notification.
Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system? Not all countries maintain IP customs notification processes. Some substantial and growing markets, such as Brazil, Canada and Chile, do not currently maintain IP custom notification systems. However, many major markets and transshipment countries maintain various types of IP customs notification systems including Argentina, Australia, China, European Union (EU), Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United States and Vietnam, among others.
Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect? Several countries only maintain IP notification systems for particular types of IP. For example, The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) only accepts copyright and trademark notifications, not patent notifications (the CBP only examines imports for patent infringement based on a Section 337 exclusion order from the U.S. International Trade Commission (more information available here)). In contrast, several other countries monitor and detain imports for possible patent and geographical indication infringement. India’s Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) in particular monitors imports for copyright, geographical indication, patent and trademark infringement.
What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements? Once an IP rights holder verifies that their IP qualifies for legal protections in the foreign country they wish to submit an IP customs notification, and that the type of IP they wish to notify customs about can be registered, the IP rights holder’s customs notification must comply with the foreign customs office’s own notification requirements.
Below are the IP customs notification submission requirements for some of the worlds’ major markets.
Types of IP Covered
|United States||19 C.F.R. 133.1 et seq.
||Copyright and Trademark||Instructions: Copyright and trademark notification (known as e-Recordation) requires:
-The trademark or copyright’s U.S. registration number
-The name, address and citizenship of the IP rights owner
-The place(s) of manufacture of goods bearing the trademark or copyright
-The name and address of individuals authorized to use the trademark or copyright
-The identity of a parent company or subsidiary authorized to use the trademark or copyright (if any)
Fees: US $190.00 per copyright and trademark (per class of goods and services).
Effective Duration of Notification: 20 years.
|e-Recordation Notification Portal|
||Copyright Act 1968, Subsection 135(2)||Copyright and Trademark||General Notes: Australian IP customs notifications are known as Notices of Objection.To register a copyright or trademark notice with Australian Customs Service, an IP rights holder must submit: (1) a notice of objection form; and (2) a deed of undertaking. Both types of forms as well as further instructions are located in the right column.
Duration of Notification: Four years.
|China||Decree of the General Administration of Customs, No. 183||Copyright, Patent and Trademark||Requirements: To file a IP customs notification with the General Administration of Customs (GAC), an application must include:
-a copy of the IP rights holder’s business registration certificate and a Chinese translation
-a copy of the Chinese registration certificate for the copyright, patent or trademark
-Proof of Power of Attorney (if registered by an agent)
-Registration fee (see below)
-Licensing agreements (if any)
-Pictures of the relevant goods and their packaging
Submission: Forms can be filled online or by mail.
Fees:Approximately US $130.00 (800 RMB).
|GAC Online Notification Form (In Chinese)|
|European Union||Council Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003, Article 5.5||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||The EU refers to IP customs notifications as Applications For Action. Applications require: (1) a completed application form; and (2) a completed Article 6 Declaration. Both forms are located to the right.
Note: Individual EU member states may maintain their own IP customs notification systems (a link to individual EU member state customs agencies is available here).
|Community Application For Action|
|India||Notification no. 47/2007 – Customs (n.t.)||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||Registration: The CBEC requires that copyrighted works be registered with Indian Copyright Office, and geographical indications, patents and trademarks with the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks prior to submitting a CBEC customs notification.
Ports of Entry: The CBEC also requires that notifications be submitted to particular ports of entry.
Duration of Notification: Minimum period of one (1) year.
|Online Notification Submission Portal|
**Note**: The above requirements are meant for comparative educational purposes only. IP rights holders should consult with national customs agencies or qualified attorneys in the jurisdictions they wish to enforce their rights to confirm these and other IP customs notification requirements.
Further Steps. Once an IP rights holder’s IP is registered with a foreign customs office, the foreign customs office will generally notify the rights holder or their representative of any infringing inbound shipments and may detain and potentially destroy infringing imports. However, such detentions may include legal proceedings, as well as additional country-specific enforcement procedures. IP rights holders should obtain qualified local counsel to assist with these enforcement activities.
U.S. President Barack Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced last Tuesday that the U.S. and the European Union (E.U.) would be entering into free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations following nearly two years of consultative talks and evaluation. Identified as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the potential FTA will a have a substantial impact on the world economy as it would liberalize nearly a third of the world’s trade. It may also have substantial intellectual property (IP) implications for IP owners if the U.S. and E.U. can overcome ongoing disagreements over international IP protection reforms.
Initially, there were low expectations that any substantial international IP reforms would result from the agreement. The U.S. and the E.U.’s High-Level Working Group on the TTIP stated in their final report last year (available here) that both parties should “address a limited number of significant IPR issues of interest to either side, without prejudice to the outcome” in their FTA negotiations. Further, news outlets reported that there were no plans for the U.S. and E.U. to harmonize their IP systems.
However, just before the February 12th TTIP announcement, U.S. congressional representatives sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk identifying priorities the U.S. Congress wants the TTIP to address, including strong IP rights protection for U.S. industries. Sent by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Senate Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the letter identified certain E.U. policies towards foreign IP as being substantial barriers to trade that should be improved. Particularly, the letter demanded that the TTIP establish measures to address EU policies that undermine the value of foreign IP protection—including pricing, reimbursement and regulatory transparency. Additionally, the senators identified geographical indications, trademark-like protections given to certain goods from specific regions such as CHAMPAGNE for sparkling wine and ROQUEFORT for cheese, as impeding the ability for U.S. agricultural businesses to compete in the E.U. market.
Lastly, the letter demanded that the TTIP should not undermine the U.S.’ ability to achieve high levels of IP protection in other U.S. FTA negotiations. In enacted and proposed FTAs such as the U.S.-Australia FTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership respectively, the U.S. established IP protections beyond minimum international standards established under World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)—known as TRIPS Plus standards, pertaining to a wide range of IP rights and enforcement.
Despite U.S. calls to address international IP reforms, it is unclear to what degree the U.S. and E.U. can find common ground to enhance international IP protections in their respective countries/blocs. This does not even mention the ability for the U.S. to establish TRIPS Plus IP standards with the E.U. as in other U.S. FTAs. Positive signs towards the potential of meaningful international IP protection reforms between the U.S. and E.U. can be seen in recent cooperative efforts including joint U.S.-E.U. online IP enforcement initiatives, and the establishment of the Cooperative Patent Classification system for harmonized patent document classifications that will be operational this year. Further, the German government, the E.U.’s largest economy, has called for the TTIP to be a fully comprehensive agreement. However, the E.U. Parliament’s rejection of the U.S.-backed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement last July showed that the E.U. is potentially wary of considering enhanced international IP protections that would likely result from a comprehensive FTA with the U.S. Time will tell whether the U.S. and E.U. can established enhanced international IP protections.
What are your thoughts on TTIP and its potential for international IP reforms? How will it impact you or your business?
As a part of its ongoing efforts to create a single European market for intellectual property rights, the European Commission announced on December 18, 2012 that it will begin examining legislative reforms to improve cross-border online access to copyrighted content within the European Union (EU). The Commission justified this review in order to combat unequal access to protected online content, where service providers license their content to be available online in some EU member states, while restricting it in others by means of geo-blocking. Finding solutions to this problem is considered necessary in order for the EU to accommodate growth for emerging technologies such as cloud computing.
The Commission’s review will include consultations with rights holders, licensing bodies, and content users concerning initiatives to promote cross-border online content access. It is scheduled to begin early next year and to last throughout 2013. A copy of the European Commission’s announcement is available here.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released an Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets on Thursday, December 13, 2012, which identified physical and online markets reported by U.S. businesses and industry organizations as being engaged in substantial intellectual property piracy and counterfeiting. The Review included particular social media, multi-platform, deeplinking, cyberlocker, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, bit torrent indexing, bit torrent tracking, and pay-per-download websites. Specific physical markets in Argentina, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Thailand, and Ukraine were also deemed notorious.
Other notable changes in the Review included the removal of Chinese websites Taobao and Sogou as notorious markets, for their efforts to work with rights-holders to identify infringing content on their websites.
A copy of the Review is available here.
On December 6, 2012, the U.S. Congress passed a bill establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia that will qualify U.S. businesses for enhanced IP protections in Russia based on Russia’s recent World Trade Organization (WTO) accession. Although Russia’s WTO accession provides greater assurances that it will protect foreign IP owners’ rights, its lack of sufficient IP enforcement and political repression continue to make Russia a precarious IP protection environment for foreign exporters and businesses.
Russia’s WTO accession makes Russia more accountable to foreign IP owners based on their acceptance of enhanced international IP commitments. By joining the WTO, Russia is required to adopt minimum international IP protections under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The U.S. and other WTO members will also be able to initiate WTO dispute settlement proceedings against Russia if they fail to live up to their TRIPS commitments. This gives WTO member countries the power to levy punitive tariffs against Russia if Russia is found to be in non-compliance with TRIPS, ultimately giving such countries the ability to indirectly but more effectively enforce their citizens’ IP rights in Russia.
Such protections could not come sooner as Russia has been criticized for failing to uphold international IP rights, which has had substantial economic implications for foreign businesses. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office placed Russia on its 2012 Priority Watch List for countries failing to sufficiently enforce international IP rights, primarily citing inadequate copyright enforcement. Inadequate enforcement has led to substantial profit losses for foreign businesses, as the International Intellectual Property Alliance reported that unauthorized file sharing in Russia led to over $1 billion in lost profits for domestic and foreign film industries in 2011, while Russia’s pirated software market was last valued in 2010 at $2.8 billion.
Russia has made strides to improve IP enforcement, yet its political repressiveness towards private businesses and personal freedoms should cause concern for IP exporters. Russia has recently passed IP enforcement reforms by establishing specific IP Courts and amending its Criminal Code with new monetary thresholds for criminal copyright infringement, both of which were applauded by industry groups and foreign government agencies. Despite these advances, Russia’s political climate still poses an obstacle to sufficient IP enforcement. The National Security Project, a Washington think tank, identified Russia’s repressive treatment towards private businesses as being a threat to IP rights based on several factors including politically partial judiciaries and arbitrary government prosecution, making businesses unable to adequately protect their IP through the Russian judicial system.
Governmental restrictions on the freedom of speech also pose IP protection concerns as seen in the recent controversy with the female punk rock band Pussy Riot. Earlier this year, members of Pussy Riot were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” based on song lyrics and videos critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. While largely overshadowed by the band members’ imprisonment, Russia’s IP authority Rospatent refused to register the band’s name as a trademark based on the mark’s use of the band’s name with its “negative and provocative” suggestiveness. In fairness, the U.S. and other countries prevent trademarks from being registered for scandalous and disparaging content. Yet, the political significance of the band’s speech begs to ask whether Rospatent’s registration refusal was based solely on speech the Russian government found offensive. If such restrictions on IP rights can be placed on its own citizens, there is no indication that foreigners would be immune from similar acts.
So what does Russia’s currently improving but precarious IP protection environment mean for businesses and exporters? Russia’s WTO accession and recent reforms will provide greater protection for foreign IP owners in Russia, yet IP enforcement and political obstacles remain, and should be seriously considered when deciding whether to enter the Russian market.