Panel II A: Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips): Presentation Summary and Comments

Article excerpt

Geralyn Ritter: Ritter said that she believes the TRIPs agreement has functioned well and that statements concerning non-compliance are overstated, even though the agreement can be made more effective. She noted that scores of countries have amended their copyright, patent, and trademark laws, and that a multilateral and comprehensive agreement like TRIPs is a necessary, powerful tool for getting these countries to update their intellectual property regimes. Compliance is far from perfect, however, and there is a lack of compliance in certain intellectual property areas in certain countries. Many countries have gone eighty percent of the distance toward compliance, but this does not represent a systemic failure to comply. Ritter noted that in April 1999, the USTR announced a "special" Special 301 out-of-cycle review of TRIPs. The review is ongoing, and, apart from a handful of copyright and patent issues, the USTR has not had many companies raise problems.

Ritter agreed that a thoughtful strategy is required for future compliance and that this issue was the focus of last year's Special 301 review. She said that the USTR met with many countries in Geneva regarding their concerns in order to foster compliance before the implementation deadline expires, and that that U.S. embassy staffs have met with a number of host countries, sometimes with a full questionnaire regarding compliance levels. Ritter added that the USTR is trying to ensure that technical assistance resources are available to countries that need them. She noted that the USTR opposes any blanket extension of the deadlines, and emphasized that, in Seattle, the United States emphasized the full implementation of already existing commitments before consideration of ways in which the agreement might be improved.

Ritter stated that the dispute settlement record shows the full intent of USTR to gain compliance--the United States has initiated and pursued more TRIPs cases than all other WTO members combined. She believes that the United States has the political will needed to enforce TRIPs. She added that the key factors in deciding whether to bring a dispute settlement case are significance, strength of the case, and the legal precedent it would set. She said that the USTR might consider bringing an insignificant case against a tiny country if it would set an important precedent. She disagreed about whether it makes sense to bring straightforward, slam-dunk cases, because such cases tend to settle prior to a review by a panel and thus their precedential value is not as significant.

Ritter concluded by stating that the number of dispute cases initiated should not be seen as a problem. She noted that the TRIPs agreement is long and complicated, with difficult issues for interpretation. She views these characteristics as a natural part of the evolution of the agreement, and said that its lack of specificity in some areas would help it to evolve to address new challenges.

Jacques Gorlin: Gorlin characterized the TRIPs agreement as a major achievement in terms of meeting the aims of those who sought to achieve it. He added that the agreement has led to significant improvement in intellectual property standards and has engendered a major debate on the importance of intellectual property. He noted that if one looks at the success of TRIPs in terms of the response to the agreement, then it has clearly been a success. There has been a routinization of intellectual property protection that those who worked for TRIPs had not expected. …