Prolonging IP law will hurt business, experts say

The government will need to exercise haste in improving outdated intellectual property (IP) laws and developing a framework for enforcing those laws if the country wishes to not drive away possible investors uncertain of losing their products to the black market, experts warn.

Current intellectual property law, which dateS back to 1914 with the enactment of the Myanmar Copyright Act, do not recognise copyright from other countries nor does it provide for registering copyright from foreign countries within Myanmar.

As a result, bootleggers openly sell DVDs, music and computer software around the country, while illicit cable providers provide unlicensed networks to its subscribers.

The process of improving IP laws began in 2001 when Myanmar joined the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), but delays have occurred in ensuring compliance with international and ASEAN norms. Nearly fifteen years later, that law appears to have become a priority for the government, who promised to deliver a revamped version in 2014.

Experts said, however, that despite recent economic gains, international firms deciding on whether to invest in the country will not wait forever, while the government rushes to modernise its laws.

“Investors don’t [want to] come to countries where their products and technology can be replicated with impunity,” Takahiko Kinoshita, secretary general of the Kyoto Comparative Law Centre, said during a seminar in Yangon earlier this month. “Without such a law, our small and medium enterprises will lose out and Myanmar will be denied new technology.”

The current version of the draft law provides for 10 years’ protection for patents and trade mart, 15 years for industrial design and for copyright, the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years after death, said Daw Hnin Nwe Aye, assistant director of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The lack of a clear law without provisions for enforcement could drive away investors who fear their products could be pirated, and stifle creatively domestically, she said.

“Passing a law is not enough. There have to be enforcement provisions,” she said, adding that Myanmar is the only country in the region without an IP law.

Where a revamped IP law would be important in drawing international firms, it would also help protect local businessmen unable to safeguard their products in the local market.

“I think local artists and musicians want to see better IP laws in place to help protect them,” said Jeremy Rathjen, vice president of research at Myanmar-based research and consulting firm Thura Swiss.

He said that although a new IP law would be beneficial, it would, however, likely not make or break international investment deals as disputes can now be handled under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which Myanmar acceded to in July.

“It is difficult to enforce certain laws in Myanmar and everyone recognises that. But that’s why the New York Convention is so important, because now they can take their disputes abroad to where there are arbitral courts and get a fair ruling,” he said, adding that such decisions could then be brought back to the local courts to be enforced.

Source: Myanmar Times

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