Tagged: USTR

U.S. and Honduras Agree to Strengthen Coordinated IP Protection and Enforcement

Earlier this month, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced it had concluded a Work Plan with the Honduran Government to strengthen intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement. Included in the Work Plan are commitments by the Honduran government to increase criminal IP prosecutions, improve IP enforcement coordination efforts with U.S. authorities, evaluate the adoption of trademark customs recordation procedures, and enhance and clarify the Honduran geographical indication (GI) protection registration process.

The adoption of the Work Plan is a positive step in U.S.-Honduran IP relations. Honduras was identified in the USTR’s 2015 Special 301 Report as being subject to an out-of-cycle review to determine whether Honduras should be included in the USTR’s Special 301 Report Watch List, namely countries considered by the USTR to have inadequate IP protections. While the 2016 Special 301 Report will not be released until April 2016, the conclusion of the Work Plan should assist Honduras in remaining off of the 2016 Special 301 Report Watch List.

USTR Releases Annual Out of Cycle Review of Notorious Markets

It is that time of year again when the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) releases its annual report on Notorious Markets—The 2014 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets. As we reported on last year, this annual review identifies foreign physical and online markets reported by U.S. businesses and industry organizations as being engaged in substantial IP piracy and counterfeiting.

This year’s review identified several foreign social media and file transferring websites, as well as a number of Internet service providers (ISPs), as being notorious markets including those hosted or located in Argentina, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Russia, San Marino, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. Additionally, physical markets in Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Thailand and Uruguay were also identified as being notorious markets.

The USTR also highlighted a number of recent developments including efforts by certain previously listed Chinese sites to curb piracy activities on their websites, as well as increased enforcement actions by rights holders and government officials to shut down physical and online markets in Brazil, the European Union and Ukraine among others.

What’s The Takeaway? As we have said before, every foreign market has its own IP protection challenges. U.S. businesses that operate abroad or are expanding into new markets should review the USTR’s 2014 Out of Cycle Review of Notorious Markets to help evaluate the IP protection risks associated with particular markets they wish to enter. Doing so can help to ensure that such businesses can better protect their IP assets abroad.

USTR Requesting Public Comments to Assist in Identifying Foreign IP Protection Barriers for U.S. Exports

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced yesterday that it is requesting public comments to assist the USTR in identifying significant barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services, including foreign IP protection deficiencies. The comments are being collected for inclusion in the USTR’s annual National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE Report) that identifies barriers to U.S. exports including the “lack of intellectual property protection (e.g., inadequate patent, copyright, and trademark regimes).”

Last year’s NTE Report identified several U.S. export markets as possessing IP protection trade barriers, or at least IP protection concerns, including Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, European Union (member states), Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Public comments for inclusion in this year’s NTE Report are due to the USTR by no later that October 29, 2014. Further instructions on the NTE public comment submission process are available here.

New USTR and IIPA Reports Describe the Current State of IP Protections for U.S. Businesses Abroad

Over the last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) released reports on the current state of intellectual property (IP) protections for U.S. businesses abroad. These reports provide updated insights on foreign countries and foreign retail markets (both physical and online) that have recently caused U.S. businesses the most IP protection difficulties.

Here is a summary of the reports:

IIPA 2014 Special 301 Report Submission

On February 8th, the IIPA submitted their 2014 Special 301 Report Submission to the USTR. As one of the largest U.S. lobbying groups for the copyright-based industries, the IIPA’s submission identifies the foreign countries the IIPA believes provides the most ineffective IP legal protections for U.S. businesses. The USTR’s final Special 301 Report (released annually April-May) provides reporting to the U.S. government and the general public on the countries that, according to the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (19 U.S.C. § 2242(a)), deny “adequate and effective protection of [IP] rights” or “fair and equitable market access to United States persons that rely upon [IP] protection.”

Although the U.S. government rarely imposes trade sanctions based on the Special 301 Report, a country’s listing in the final report often impacts the U.S.’ trade relations with that country and the degree to which the U.S. government initiates trade promotional activities with the same. From both a private sector and practical standpoint, the Report also represents a review of the markets that U.S. businesses have had the most IP protection challenges.

What countries did the IIPA recommend for inclusion in the 2014 Special 301 Report?

Priority Foreign Countries. For a second year in a row, the IIPA has identified Ukraine as being a “Priority Foreign Country.” This is the least favorable designation available under the Special 301 reporting system. Specifically, it identifies that country as one with the “most onerous or egregious acts, policies, or practices” that “have the greatest adverse impact (actual or potential) on the relevant [U.S.] products” without making efforts to ameliorate their status. 19 U.S.C. § 2242(b)(1)). Ukraine’s designation as a Priority Foreign Country was based on a number of factors, most notably the absence of effective online copyright enforcement, and unfair and non-transparent royalty society collections. Shockingly, the classification was also based on reports of widespread software pirating by Ukrainian government agencies.

Priority Watch List and Watch List Countries. The IIPA’s Special 301 Report Submission lists Argentina, Chile, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam on the “Priority Watch List,” and Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Ecuador, Greece, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan as “Watch List” countries. Although not as a severe rating as a Priority Foreign Country, being listed as a country on the Priority Watch List or simply Watch List means that a country has potential IP protection deficiencies that require varying levels of USTR monitoring.

Newly Non-Listed Countries. It is also important to note that the IIPA has recommended removing a number of countries from the final 2014 Special 301 Report due to their improvements in IP protection. These countries include Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets

Also, on Wednesday, the USTR released an Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets that identified physical and online markets reported by U.S. businesses and industry organizations as being engaged in substantial IP piracy and counterfeiting. The Review includes particular social media and file transferring sites hosted abroad, including sites hosted in Antigua and Barbuda, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland (possibly), Netherlands, Poland, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vietnam. Specific physical markets in Argentina, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Thailand and Ukraine were also deemed notorious.

What’s The Takeaway? Every foreign market has its own IP protection challenges. U.S. businesses that are exploring expansion into new markets should consider the IIPA’s Special 301 Report Submission (as well as the USTR’s Final Special 301 Report due out later this year), and the USTR’s Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets to help evaluate the IP risks associated with such markets. Doing so can help to ensure that such businesses can better protect their IP assets as they expand.

Some Patent Considerations When Entering into Relationships with Indian Businesses After Novartis AG v. Union of India

Co-Authored by Shreya Ley, Attorney and Owner of Lay Roots

You may have thought that this summer was all about capturing that certain bohemian-chic essence, but the true trendsetters are all talking about recent developments in Indian patent law. In April, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in Novartis AG v. Union of India & Others that Swiss pharmaceutical maker Novartis was not entitled to patent protections for their leukemia treatment drug Gleevec. The Indian Supreme Court’s rationale was heavily based on their efforts to stop pharmaceutical “evergreening” – a practice pharmaceutical companies use to extend the life of a patent by seeking patent protection of subsequent improvements to their drugs or alternative, novel uses for such drugs.

Novartis had been attempting to patent a new and improved version of Gleevec. It had been unable to patent the original version of the drug in India because India did not recognize or grant pharmaceutical patents prior to completing their implementation of their World Trade Organization obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 2005. Upon discovering an improved version of Gleevec, Novartis sought to gain patent protection in an effort to halt the rampant manufacturing of generic forms of the drug in India. However, the Indian Supreme Court found that Novartis had not created enough of an improvement in the new Gleevec to qualify the drug as a new invention. Since Novartis’ ruling, Indian courts have subsequently invalidated other similar patent applications as seen last Friday with the invalidation of the Glaxo Smith Kline’s cancer drug Tykerb.

The Novartis decision and other similar Indian court rulings that refused to grant patent protections to pharmaceutical improvements have become the major impetus for foreign businesses and governments to denounce the Indian patent system as being broken, unjust, or perhaps just biased against non-Indian inventors. Around the world, India’s stand against pharmaceutical evergreening has led such entities to decry the general state of innovation in India. Here in the U.S., the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America commented that the Novartis ruling was a sign of India’s “deteriorating innovation environment” and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative remarked that recent Indian patent developments have “raised serious questions about the innovation climate in India and risk hindering the country’s progress towards an innovation-focused economy.” Such rhetoric has inevitably led American and other non-Indian businesses to become weary of working with Indian resident companies and inventors, ”hear ye, hear ye, innovators around the world! Take heed of this warning tale!”

Well, “fear not!” Keep in mind that Novartis and the other related Indian court decisions only apply to pharmaceutical patents as such rulings have been based on a specific provision in the Indian Patent Act relating to incremental innovations in pharmaceuticals. So, given the limited applicability of Novartis and related cases, foreign businesses should simply forge ahead with their Indian business relationships, right?

Not quite so fast. Dealing with any foreign business, inventor, or entity comes with its own challenges and those looking to partner with Indian resident businesses should consider the following before getting too involved.

1.     Get a Comprehensive Agreement in Place Beforehand. Many partnering businesses have a difficult time putting a written agreement together prior to beginning their business relationship. THIS. IS. A. MISTAKE. Getting a clear agreement in place beforehand is important for foreign businesses and their Indian counterparts to prevent future misunderstandings that could potentially derail their objectives and result in substantial costs. Such an agreement should not only clearly outline the parties’ rights and obligations with respect to the Intellectual Property (IP) created in their relationship, it should additionally cover business aspects of the relationship. Although a large part of such relationships is based on the IP, the business side encompasses what happens once IP is created and it is equally important.

Specifically, agreements should address the following:

What is being protected? The agreement should clarify for foreign businesses and their Indian counterparts the types of IP their relationship needs to protect. This can be as simple as designating that both patentable and trade secret innovations will be protected and as complicated as describing protections for each and every potential innovation arising out of the relationship, whether a part of the parties’ original intentions or not. This designation process will not only help to define the scope of the parties’ project, it will also help ensure that the parties seek appropriate protections and enforcement measure for their IP. Completing this exercise is especially important in a cross-border context as the enforcement of IP rights abroad may be more difficult than simply making sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning. India in particular has been notorious for lacking the necessary infrastructure to enforce IP rights efficiently.

Who gets ownership? Establishing ownership of resulting IP from an Indian business relationship is important in an initial agreement because countries vary in the rights they give to owners and inventors. For example, Section 2(p) of the Indian Patent Act uses the term “patentee” for patent owners that is defined as “the person for the time being entered on the register as the grantee or proprietor of the patent.” In contrast, the U.S. does not officially use the term “patentee” and most American inventors would probably assume that patentee refers specifically to inventors. As illustrated above however, “patentee” in India is not necessarily limited to inventors. Therefore, making sure that all parties are clear on who will be named inventors and who will own resulting IP is essential to ensuring a good business relationship with an Indian resident business or inventor.

Who gets paid? This, inevitably, is a difficult topic to discuss, and it is inextricably tied to IP ownership rights. When there is no money coming in, everyone wants to split things down the middle. However, once there is money or it looks like there will be no money, businesses start to quibble. In order to avoid costly, drawn out battles that could prevent businesses from furthering an otherwise fruitful relationship, it is important to outline how all parties are to be compensated for their hard work, time and ingenuity once their relationship has taken off as well as when it has reached its conclusion.

Outlining business plans in writing through an agreement not only forces the parties to talk about their innovation strategy, marketing plans, and production plans; it also enables them to have a clearer direction for their relationship.  If anyone is worried that creating a detailed, written plan will inhibit their creativity, then remember that a good agreement should leave some room for flexibility. Allowing such flexibility can lead to great innovation and profitability. Ultimately, however, having a clear outline of where the parties’ want to go, how they want to get there, and what they need to get to that point (the “what” usually being the IP) can lead to a more profitable and innovative business relationship and can prevent costly future litigation.

2.     Be Conscious of Indian Patent Filing Requirements and Tolling Restrictions. Understanding Indian patent application filing requirements and the interplay between them and other foreign patent filing requirements is essential for businesses to ensure the broadest global patent protections for their resulting innovations. The most important thing for non-Indian businesses to realize is that Section 39 of the Indian Patent Act requires that patent applications for any invention created with the help of Indian residents must first be filed in India. Yes, before filing an international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, before filing a U.S. patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and before filing a patent application anywhere else, foreign businesses working with Indian inventors must file a patent application with India’s patent office (The Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks (Controller)).

Does that sound unreasonable? Foreign businesses may be able to apply for special permission from the Controller to initially file abroad, but don’t bet on the Controller bending the rules.  If no special permission is given, a foreign business must wait for approximately six weeks after filing in India to file elsewhere.

So, if a foreign business has applied with the Controller and waited six weeks, they can now submit applications anywhere else…right?  Sure!  Just make sure not to dilly-dally because filing in India limits the amount of time a business has to file their patent application with the USPTO and other national patent offices. Knowing the timelines from start to finish of the Indian patent application system and how filing dates in India affect the requirements for filing applications in other countries can greatly impact business decisions.

Parting Thoughts. Go forth and innovate with Indian resident compatriots! The considerations above and recent Indian pharmaceutical patent decisions should not stop foreign businesses from doing so. Collaboration enables people to create great innovations, but every business relationship, whether down the hallway or across the world, has its own challenges and limitations. It’s good for businesses to be honest about those challenges and to create a plan for overcoming them before they run into them. These general suggestions don’t apply to everyone and it’s always wise to consult with qualified local counsel and persons who can advise on the particulars of a specific business. In the end, it will save businesses a lot of time, headaches, and money to simply invest in the relationship by setting it up correctly.

Also, no matter how overwhelming the planning process may seem, just remember, at least you’re not going up against Bollywood screenwriters who generously “borrow” from American film. In cases like those, it’s best to pop some popcorn, settle onto the couch, and enjoy the results – because the results ARE rather glorious, are they not?

Factors to Consider in Cross-Border Trade Secret Protection

Trade secrets are arguably the most common form of intellectual property transmitted across borders in today’s global market. Any business that seeks to capitalize on foreign market opportunities—either by working with a foreign partner or establishing their own foreign operations—is likely to transmit confidential information abroad. However, such cross-border transmissions directly impact the legal protections afforded to such information as the extent of trade secret protection and enforceability of trade secret rights varies between countries. Examining some of the main differences in trade secret protection and enforceability between countries is important as businesses increasingly must choose how to contractually structure protections for their confidential information abroad. Further, understanding the extent of trade secret protections afforded to confidential information in different markets can help businesses establish effective country-specific trade secret protection strategies that address the strengths and weaknesses of a particular country’s legal protections for trade secrets.Particular factors that should be considered include:

  • Qualifying confidential information
  • Injunctive enforceability of trade secret rights
  • Foreign judicial system effectiveness

Qualifying Confidential Information. A preliminary factor for businesses to consider is the extent to which their confidential information is protected under a country’s trade secret laws. Most countries have adopted a minimum level of legal protections for trade secrets, yet such protections often vary. World Trade Organization (WTO) member states are required to adopt minimum legal protections for trade secrets. Under Article 3 and Article 39(2) of The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), WTO member states must provide persons or entities of their countries and other WTO member states legal rights to prevent the disclosure of lawfully-held information that:

  1. Is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question;
  2. Has commercial value because it is secret; and
  3. Has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.

As this widely accepted minimum legal requirement is ambiguous, WTO member states have the ability to establish their own variation, often differing the amount and type of confidential information qualifying for trade secret protection. For example, the U.S.[1] and China[2] provide legal protection for confidential information that has actual (current) or potential commercial value, where TRIPS is silent about the time to which such value must be established.[3] This means that a business that has developed or acquired confidential information that will be commercially valuable at a future date will qualify for legal protection for such information in these countries, subject to protection and secretive requirements.

In contrast, several countries are silent on this commercial value issue and maintain other factors for determining trade secret protection. For example, in India, trade secrets have been judicially defined as “formulae, technical know-how or a peculiar mode or method of business adopted by an employer which is unknown to others.”[4]  Not only is this definition silent on when commercial value must be established, it is also silent on what constitutes sufficiently reasonable protection procedures for such information to qualify for trade secret protection.

As these examples illustrate, countries often maintain different qualifying standards for trade secret protection despite satisfying their TRIPS obligations. Based on these differences, businesses must carefully determine what portions of their confidential information qualifies for trade secret protection in a particular country.

Injunctive Enforceability of Trade Secret Rights. Trade secret owners must also consider their ability to protect their trade secrets through injunctive relief in a particular country. Most countries will grant a permanent injunction against a person or entity after they are found by a Court to have misappropriated a trade secret. However, this often requires initiating and succeeding in a legal action, which is not certain to succeed and may take a substantial amount time before being granted. This could harm the commercial value of the confidential information, and in many cases, the potential success of the trade secret owner’s foreign business operations or strategies. As a result, seeking a preliminary injunction, namely an injunction sought at the onset of a trade secret misappropriation proceeding, is essential to effective trade secret protection.

A business’ ability to seek a preliminary injunction to protect their trade secret varies from country-to-country. In the U.S., a trade secret owner may seek a preliminary injunction against a misappropriating party or parties providing them assistance through an initial motion in a misappropriation proceeding.[5] Although U.S. jurisdictions generally maintain high evidentiary burdens for trade secret owners to obtain preliminary injunctions[6], U.S. courts allow evidentiary exchanges between the parties (known as discovery) and copies of original evidence to be admissible under specific requirements. U.S. courts may also permit discovery proceedings to be expedited based on the sensitivity of the confidential information at issue.[7]

In contrast, other countries make obtaining a preliminary injunction more difficult. For example, preliminary injunctions are rarely granted in Chinese trade secret cases due to the absence of a discovery process and restrictive evidentiary burdens. Chinese trade secret proceedings do not have discovery processes and Chinese Courts will generally only accept original written forms of evidence.[8] This means that trade secret owners in China are forced to gather their own evidence, and can only admit original written evidence, which makes satisfying the evidentiary burden to obtain an preliminary injunction substantially more difficult.

As illustrated with China’s trade secret injunction procedures, trade secret owners need to determine what challenges they will face in enforcing their trade secret protections under a country’s judicial procedures, regardless of the extent of a country’s trade secret protections.

Foreign Judicial System Effectiveness. Even if a country’s injunctive judicial procedures are surmountable, a country must also have an effective judicial system to even allow injunctive enforcement to be brought forward. This requires determining whether a country has an effective judicial system to enforce trade secret protections. There are several resources for businesses to determine the effectiveness of a foreign country’s judicial system, including their national IP offices and trade agencies. In the U.S., the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) publishes annual reports (known as Special 301 Reports) that identify IP enforcement concerns for U.S. IP owners by country, including ineffective judicial systems. For example, in the 2013 USTR Special 301 Report, the USTR identified Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Paraguay, Peru and Turkey as having judicial system inefficiencies for enforcing IP rights.

Parting Notes. Although the above-mentioned factors are important when evaluating cross-border trade secret protections, examining such factors only comprise a portion of an effective foreign trade secret protection strategy. Establishing the best protections for trade secrets abroad should also include other protection measures including the development of internal business protocols to prevent unauthorized information disclosures, among other procedures. Working with qualified counsel can effectively assist with evaluating both the above-mentioned factors and internal business protocols.


[1] Uniform Trade Secrets Act, § 1.4; 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3)(b).
[2] J. Benjamin Bai and Guoping Da, Strategies for Trade Secrets Protection in China, 9 Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 351, 359 (2011) available at http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/njtip/vol9/iss7/1  (citing Zui Gao Ren Min Fa Yuan Guan Yu Shen Li Bu Zheng Dang Jing Zheng Min Shi An Jian Ying Yong Fa Lv Ruo Gan Wen Ti De Jie Shi, Interpretation of Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Civil Cases Involving Unfair Competition, art. 10, Fashi 2/2007 (Sup. People’s Ct. 2007) (China)).
[3] Pedro A. Padilla Torres, Overview of International Trade Secret Protection, National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade, (2001) available at http://db.natlaw.com/interam/mx/ip/sp/spmxip14.htm.
[4] Zafar Mahfooz Nomani and Faizanur Rahman, Intellection of Trade Secret and Innovation Laws in India, J Intell. Prop Rights, 341, 346, (Jul. 2011) (citing American Express Bank Ltd. v Priya Puri (2006) III LLJ 540 (Del) (India)).
[5] Ronald S. Wynn, Trade Secret Litigation: TROs, Preliminary Injunctions, and Some Things to Think About First, HansonBridgett, 2-3, Mar. 2012 available at http://www.hansonbridgett.com/Our-Attorneys/~/media/Files/Publications/IP_alert_trade_secret_litigation_2012.pdf.
[6] Id. at 2 (burden generally includes “(1) probable success on the merits, (2) irreparable harm without the requested injunction, and (3) a balance of hardships between the trade secret claimant and the alleged misappropriator that favors the injunction”).
[7] Id. at 3.
[8] J. Benjamin Bai and Guoping Da, supra note 2, at 362-63.

New U.S. Trade Secret Strategy to Focus on Expanding Legal Protections Through Trade Agreements

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.

USTR Releases Review of Notorious IP Infringement Markets

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.

Russia’s Improving But Precarious IP Environment

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.