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European Commission asks for new IP protection layer

WIPO 'not flexible enough'

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The European Commission wants to create a new layer of intellectual property protections because it says existing structures such as WIPO are not flexible enough.

The commission is seeking EU member states' permission to negotiate new trade agreements with a list of specific countries, including the US, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and New Zealand. The aim of the agreements will be the enforcement of intellectual property rights and combating piracy.

The commission wants to create the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which will create "high-level international framework that strengthens the global enforcement of intellectual property rights and helps in the fight to protect consumers from the health and safety risks associated with many counterfeit products".

The permission of the EU member states is needed before such agreements can be negotiated, and the commission is now formally seeking that permission.

The activity envisaged by the plan is more usually undertaken by trade bodies such as the World Trade Organisation, the G8 group of industrialised nations, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). A commission statement, though, said that it felt it needed more room to manoeuvre than those bodies provided.

"We feel that the approach of a free-standing agreement gives us the most flexibility to pursue this project among interested countries," said a statement. "We fully support the important work of the G8, WTO, and WIPO, all of which touch on intellectual property rights enforcement. The membership and priorities of those organisations simply are not the most conducive to this kind of path breaking project."

The proposal of the new body highlights the worries of some economies about the piracy threat posed by countries without similar traditions of intellectual property rights enforcement.

"The EU is consistently pushing countries like China to enforce anti-counterfeiting legislation and to toughen the legal penalties for intellectual property theft," said the commission statement. "Closer coordination on international benchmarks can reinforce this pressure."

ACTA is designed to create a common approach between member nations in relation to the punishment of counterfeiting and piracy. It may also plan to change the law in some member countries. One of its aims is listed as "creating a strong modern legal framework which reflects the changing nature of intellectual property theft in the global economy".

The commission said the creation of the new body was necessary to deal with new threats. It said 130 million fake products were seized at EU borders, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said trade in fake goods represented two per cent of world trade. It said physical trade in counterfeit goods was worth $200bn a year.

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