The Obama Administration released a report late last month entitled Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets detailing strategies the U.S. will take to combat trade secret theft, including the pursuit of enhanced foreign legal protections for U.S. trade secrets through ongoing and future trade agreements. Particularly, the Administration will seek to establish new trade secret protections in treaty member states, similar to those provided under U.S. law, in trade agreement negotiations such as Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP; Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, U.S., Vietnam, and potentially the Philippines).
Establishing harmonized trade secret protections in trade agreements—such as the TPP—will likely provide U.S. and treaty member state businesses trade secret protections in treaty countries beyond those currently provided under international IP law. The main standard for international trade secret law, Article 39.2 of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), provides that signatory states must establish means for persons and entities to protect information that is: (a) secret; (b) commercially valuable due to its secretive status; and (c) has been kept secret through reasonable measures. However, Article 39.2 has received criticism for not providing specific requirements about what legal protections WTO member states should adopt for compliance, thereby resulting in disparate and often uneven trade secret protections from country-to-country.
The adoption of U.S.-like trade secret protections in foreign countries such as the TPP member states can help to better ensure that both U.S. and treaty member state businesses have necessary trade secret protections, both at home and abroad. Despite the Obama Administration’s call for such harmonization, it remains to be seen whether U.S.-like trade secret protections will be adopted in ongoing and future trade agreement negotiations.
The Thai government recently pursued two IP reforms that will provide qualifying foreign copyright owners enhanced enforcement protections for their works in Thailand. This will happen through strengthened government enforcement efforts, as well as improved Internet enforcement procedures. These efforts could not have come at more crucial time—for both Thailand and foreign copyright owners. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) placed Thailand on its 2012 Priority Watch List of countries with IP enforcement concerns, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has reported that foreign industries lose several hundreds of millions dollars annually in Thailand due to IP infringement, with the latest statistics available showing that the U.S. software industry in particular lost a staggering $427 million in 2010 due to unlicensed sharing.
So what are the specific Thai reforms and which foreign works qualify for enhanced protection?
New Enforcement Office: Last week, the Thai Department of Intellectual Property announced the opening of the Operations Centre for the Suppression of Intellectual Property. It was established to monitor suspected infringer movements, distribution channels, tax payments, cash flows, and money laundering activities. The formation of the Centre will also assist Thai authorities in increasing prosecutions of IP infringers, which the IIPA identified as being a priority action needed to combat IP infringement.
Proposed Legislation: The Thai cabinet finalized the Copyright Act (Draft Act) late last year, a proposed amendment to Thai copyright law that provides several copyright enforcement reforms, particularly by improving Internet enforcement procedures. According to analysis by Nuttaphol Arammuang, attorney at the law firm Tilleke & Gibbins, the Draft Act provides a copyright owner the ability to petition a Thai Court to compel an online service provider, namely a person hosting or storing data on behalf of a user who infringes the copyright owner’s work, to take down infringing online content. To do so, a copyright owner must submit a petition to a Thai Court. This will be followed by an investigation, and if found sufficient, will compel the Court to order the service provider to temporarily or permanently remove the infringing content.
These judicial takedown provisions will potentially provide foreign copyright owners expanded enforcement rights, yet they may be not as directly efficient or inexpensive as in other countries. The Draft Act’s petition system provides similar means for copyright owners to enforce their rights online against infringers and service providers as found in the U.S. under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Australia under the 1969 Copyright Regulations. However unlike those laws, the Draft Act appears to not create a notice and takedown system, specifically the ability for copyright owners to directly petition service providers to take down infringing content. Without a notice and takedown system, copyright owners under the Draft Act are less able to quickly remove infringing online content, and instead are required to submit a Court petition prior to obtaining online content removal. The absence of such a system could also potentially burden copyright owners with additional legal costs by requiring them to seek a judicial order rather than submitting a potentially less-expensive extrajudicial take down notice.
Despite these potential concerns, Thailand’s recent entrance into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations may ultimately result in the Thai government adopting notice and takedown system laws for protected works from other TPP member states. Leaked TPP agreement IP chapter drafts have included requirements for TPP member states to limit liability safe harbor protections for service providers, which may compel Thailand to adopt notice and takedown systems for works from other TPP member states. This may at least provide copyright owners from other TPP member states (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, U.S., and Vietnam) the ability to utilize notice and takedown enforcement protections in Thailand in the future.
Qualifying Foreign Works: To obtain protections provided by these reforms, as well as all other legal protections currently provided under Thai copyright law, a foreign work must qualify as a protected work under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. A foreign work obtains protection under the Berne Convention when such a work becomes attached, meaning that the author of the work is a national of a Berne Convention country, a habitual resident in a Berne Convention country, or that the author publishes their work first in Berne Convention country or within a Berne Convention country 30 days after an initial publishing in a non-Berne Convention country. A list of Berne Convention countries is available here.
What do you think of these reforms? What IP enforcement issues are you facing in Thailand?
Special thanks to Jessica Taback for her assistance!