EU sharply criticised over new trademarks directive | Greenwatch Dhaka | The leading online daily of Bangladesh

EU sharply criticised over new trademarks directive


Geneva (Kanaga Raja) – Several developing countries – Brazil, India, South Africa, China and Indonesia – took the European Union (EU) to task over its new Directive aimed at harmonising the provisions of trademark laws in the EU member states.
The new directive, they said, could impose restrictions on legitimate shipments of goods, in particular essential generic medicines, while in transit in these EU member states.
According to trade officials, these concerns were voiced at the WTO TRIPS Council meeting, 7-8 June, where the five countries charged that the new EU Directive would allow the customs authorities in the EU member states to seize goods in transit without adequate evidence of violation of trademarks.These concerns had originated from seizure by customs authorities in the Netherlands in 2008 of consignments of generic medicines from India while in transit in Amsterdam on their way to other developing countries including Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Nigeria.
Preambular paragraphs 21 to 25 of the new EU Directive 2015/2436 of 16 December 2015 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trademarks state that:
“(21) In order to strengthen trade mark protection and combat counterfeiting more effectively, and in line with international obligations of the Member States under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) framework, in particular Article V of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade on freedom of transit and, as regards generic medicines, the ‘Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health’ adopted by the Doha WTO Ministerial Conference on 14 November 2001, the proprietor of a trade mark should be entitled to prevent third parties from bringing goods, in the course of trade, into the Member State where the trade mark is registered without being released for free circulation there, where such goods come from third countries and bear without authorisation a trade mark which is identical or essentially identical with the trade mark registered in respect of such goods.
“(22) To this effect, it should be permissible for trade mark proprietors to prevent the entry of infringing goods and their placement in all customs situations, including, in particular transit, transhipment, warehousing, free zones, temporary storage, inward processing or temporary admission, also when such goods are not intended to be placed on the market of the Member State concerned. In performing customs controls, the customs authorities should make use of the powers and procedures laid down in Regulation (EU) No 608/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council, also at the request of the right holders. In particular, the customs authorities should carry out the relevant controls on the basis of risk analysis criteria.
“(23) In order to reconcile the need to ensure the effective enforcement of trade mark rights with the necessity to avoid hampering the free flow of trade in legitimate goods, the entitlement of the proprietor of the trade mark should lapse where, during the subsequent proceedings initiated before the judicial or other authority competent to take a substantive decision on whether the registered trade mark has been infringed, the declarant or the holder of the goods is able to prove that the proprietor of the registered trade mark is not entitled to prohibit the placing of the goods on the market in the country of final destination.
“(24) Article 28 of Regulation (EU) No 608/2013 provides that a right holder is to be liable for damages towards the holder of the goods where, inter alia, the goods in question are subsequently found not to infringe an intellectual property right.
“(25) Appropriate measures should be taken with a view to ensuring the smooth transit of generic medicines. With respect to international non-proprietary names (INN) as globally recognised generic names for active substances in pharmaceutical preparations, it is vital to take due account of the existing limitations on the effect of trade mark rights. Consequently, the proprietor of a trade mark should not have the right to prevent a third party from bringing goods into a Member State where the trade mark is registered without being released for free circulation there based upon similarities between the INN for the active ingredient in the medicines and the trade mark.”
According to trade officials, the EU pointed to its notification of the Directive (2015/2436 of 16 December 2015), and said the new changes will make the trademark system across Europe more efficient.
According to the EU, the Directive entered into force in January 2016, and EU member states will need to transpose it into national law by 14 January 2019.
The EU said that the Directive is intended to harmonise the different practices of EU member states with regards to their national trademark system.
According to trade officials, Brazil said that possible restrictions on legitimate concerns can arise because of this Directive.
It said that the issue of abuse of intellectual property rights for shipments in transit had already been brought up in the TRIPS Council.
It cited in this context the shipment of generic medicines from India, which was unlawfully detained in the Netherlands.
It noted that both Brazil and India had voiced concerns about blocking lifesaving medicines, which were needed for the Brazilian public. Consultations had taken place with the EU on this.
Brazil is aware that there are damages arising from counterfeiting but these shipments should not be subject to unnecessary delays.
According to trade officials, India was of the view that some provisions in the regulation would allow the EU to authorise confiscation and seizure of goods which originate from one country and destined for a third country while in transit in the EU, and without evidence that the product would be imported into the EU market.
This would have a profound impact on access to affordable medicines as currently set out in this EU trademark legislation, it underlined.
According to India, it appears that there is an exception in the Directive created for the purpose of generics, but it is limited to ingredients and not for actual generic medicines in transit.
India noted the incident (seizure of generic drugs in transit) that happened in the Netherlands in 2008, and said that it does not want this to happen again.
Pointing out that the Directive on trademarks appeared to violate provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, to the extent that the measures in question fail to make a categorical distinction between goods in transit and those that are not, India said it has serious concerns over the new EU regulation, and mentioned amongst others Article 51 of the TRIPS Agreement.
India urged the EU to address these concerns.
South Africa expressed concern that various aspects of the EU package impact goods in transit and allowed the EU to authorise the confiscation of goods not destined for EU markets without adequate evidence. This could profoundly effect access to affordable medicines.
The statement by the EU that interception of shipments will only take place if the trademarks are identical to protected trademarks raised a lot of questions, said South Africa, adding that it will burden the holder of these goods and impede international trade in that respect.
China said the new EU trademark legislation will potentially create risks and uncertainties in international trade, particularly for goods in transit.
It pointed out that the TRIPS Agreement sets out benchmark obligations to protect intellectual property rights, and that any unilateral measures need to take account of multilateral rules.
The inappropriate actions against goods in transit will create a burden and unnecessary restrictions on legitimate international trade including generic medicines, it said.
China asked the EU to take its concerns into account.
According to trade officials, Indonesia shared the same concerns expressed by Brazil, India, South Africa and China.
In response, the EU said that the purpose of these new measures was to combat illegal traffic in counterfeit goods. It was certainly not to target in particular pharmaceuticals, it maintained.
The EU said that the new directive on trademark protection contained specific provisions to prevent undue detention of pharmaceutical shipments in transit.
It said that there seems to be considerable confusion created between counterfeits and generics, as the separation between these two types of products is very clear.
It maintained that the seizure of shipments of medicines in the Netherlands eight years ago has never been repeated.
According to the EU, it is totally unrelated (to trademark infringement) and the previous incident concerns suspected patent infringements.
In the meantime, the EU said, measures have been taken so that this incident will not be repeated, and it has not been repeated.
The procedures under its directive are not that much different than what currently exists in Brazil where it also allows the same customs action against illegal goods, it claimed.
The EU further said that it does not know where this idea came from that seizures (of shipments of goods in transit) can take place without evidence, adding that a quick look at its legislation clarifies that this is not the case. It is obvious that evidence would be required.
According to trade officials, there were no other interventions from the floor on the EU’s new directive.
Meanwhile, discussions took place, both in formal and informal modes, on the possibility of bringing TRIPS non-violation complaints to the dispute settlement.
According to trade officials, the US and Switzerland maintained that such complaints should be allowed.
However, many members – Brazil, China, India, Ecuador, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Russia, Egypt, Colombia, and Nigeria for the African Group – in line with a May 2015 proposal (IP/C/W/ 385/Rev.1), underlined that non-violation complaints should not be allowed under the TRIPS Agreement.
According to trade officials, India said its position is well-known and remains unchanged. It would like to see non-violation complaints be not applicable to the TRIPS Agreement.
India also said that it does not support the idea of a Chair or the Secretariat coming up with ‘non-papers’ suggesting possible scope and modalities.
This is a member-driven organisation, and the demandeurs for such a provision should come up with their own proposal, India said.
India said that it along with many other countries, was a co-sponsor of the proposal in document W/385. Given that this had wide support, there is no scope for the Chair or the Secretariat coming up with any suggestions.
Nigeria, for the African Group, said that it agreed that the TRIPS Agreement provides minimum standards for protection of intellectual property.
However, application of non-violation complaints would curtail flexibilities on access to medicines, it said.
It agreed with Peru, that Peru’s paper (W/607) would form a good basis for discussions on the matter.
[In a communication dated 24 July 2015, Peru, on behalf of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka and Venezuela had submitted a draft decision on “Non-violation and situation complaints” for consideration at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO (held in Nairobi last December).
[The draft decision states: “We take note of the work done by the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights pursuant to our Decision of 11 December 2013 on “TRIPS Non-Violation and Situation Complaints” (WT/MIN (13)/31);
[“After having examined the issue of the scope and modalities for complaints of the types provided for under subparagraphs 1(b) and 1(c) of Article XXIII of GATT 1994, the 10th Ministerial Conference decides that those provisions of GATT 1994 shall not apply to the settlement of disputes under the TRIPS Agreement.”]
[Members at the tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi last December have agreed to extend the moratorium on non-violation complaints until the next ministerial conference in 2017.
[The Nairobi Ministerial Decision of 19 December 2015 states: “We take note of the work done by the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights pursuant to our Decision of 7 December 2013 on ‘TRIPS Non-Violation and Situation Complaints’ (WT/L/906), and direct it to continue its examination of the scope and modalities for complaints of the types provided for under subparagraphs 1(b) and 1(c) of Article XXIII of GATT 1994 and make recommendations to our next Session, which we have decided to hold in 2017. It is agreed that, in the meantime, Members will not initiate such complaints under the TRIPS Agreement.”]
According to trade officials, Canada and Korea also voiced concerns about bringing non-violation complaints under TRIPS.
According to trade officials, the Chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Modest Jonathan Mero of Tanzania, said that he had intended to put forward a paper in order to help overcome the decades-long deadlock on the issue, but that this did not receive consensus support as some delegations believe the process should be entirely member-driven.
On the “triplet” of issues – biotechnology, biodiversity, and traditional knowledge – the Chair said that while constructive discussion took place, positions have not evolved, neither in terms of substance nor procedure.
According to the Chair, a number of members reiterated their position that a proposed 2011 decision to enhance mutual supportiveness between the TRIPS agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) should be the basis of further discussions, and that the CBD secretariat should be invited to brief WTO members on developments regarding the convention.
According to trade officials, the Chair said that none of the suggestions garnered full support of the membership.
On the issue of E-commerce, which was on the agenda of the TRIPS Council meeting, Canada said that the General Council had established a work program on electronic commerce in 1998 to be carried out by relevant WTO bodies, including the TRIPS Council, with discussions on e-commerce issues taking place within the TRIPS Council between 1998 and 2003.
Noting the Nairobi Ministerial Decision to “reinvigorate the regular work” of the WTO committees, Canada asked members to consider possible approaches for re-engaging in discussions under the e-commerce work programme at the TRIPS Council.
Canada said that the discussions could allow Members to share national experiences and practices on IP and e-commerce issues in light of the rapid growth in digital technology and telecommunications as facilitators of commerce.
According to trade officials, India cautioned against any broad interpretation of the mandate, and said that talks should be of an exploratory nature only.
A number of delegations also said they did not want e-commerce to be a standing item on the agenda of the TRIPS Council. It should be dealt with on an ad hoc basis, they said.
According to trade officials, the Chair made what he said is a “minor” procedural suggestion that more extensive use be made of the possibility to hold parts of the TRIPS Council meeting in informal mode.
According to the Chair, reverting to informal mode would have the “clear advantage of encouraging an open and stimulating discussion in which delegates would not feel compelled to be limited to simply putting well-known positions on record”.
Ambassador Mero said his impression, which was shared by many delegations he spoke to, was that “after over twenty years of work on a relatively static agenda, it would be timely to have a fresh look at how the Council manages its agenda and to consider the possibilities for adapting its working procedures.”
“It’s time for me and you to do something about it,” the chair said, adding that members “can’t feel good” about discussions that have, in some cases, not advanced in decades.
According to the Chair, the informal discussions he had organized last week showed that delegations appeared to be generally supportive of the idea.
(Published in SUNS #8260 dated 13 June) – Third World Network


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