The IP Office of the Philippines has revealed its five year strategic plan, the IPR Action Plan 2017-2022, which aims to provide a roadmap for IP protection and enforcement in the Philippines. Asialaw spoke to Allan Gepty, the Office’s deputy director general and IP lawyers in the Philippines, to get a clear picture of the critical issues in the plan for IP owners.

IPR Action Plan 2017-2022

The plan sets out seven major initiatives:

  • Incorporating IP policy into government work;
  • Scaling up the protection and enforcement of IP;
  • Speeding up IP dispute processes;
  • Strengthening legal infrastructure through the implementation of IP laws;
  • Improving on personnel and enforcement agencies’ capacity building;
  • Intensifying IP education; and
  • Building strong presence in international forums

Counterfeiting still a concern

Victor De Leon

The Philippines has made improvements in fighting against counterfeiting which has resulted in it avoiding being placed on the annual special 301 watch list compiled by the US Trade Representative (USTR) for the past three years. However, the problem has not been eradicated. “The biggest IP issue being faced today in the Philippines continues to be the proliferation of counterfeit products,” says Victor De Leon, partner at ACCRALAW. “There are still areas in the country where counterfeit products are being openly sold to the public,” he adds. At the same time, De Leon notes that the IP Office, which is leading the government’s efforts on the issue, is trying to improve its anti-counterfeiting initiatives by using IP enforcement practices based on the standards of the IPR action plan.

The fact that the IPR Action Plan was unveiled at the 6th Philippine Anti-Counterfeiting and Piracy Summit at the end of October suggests the government is taking anti-counterfeiting seriously.

Allan Gepty

“Government must take the lead in including IP policies,” says Gepty. “Through increased coordination between different agencies with a National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights, a 12 member government agency ranging from the Department of Justice to the National Bureau of Investigation, there will be more exchange of information.”

“There needs to be enhancements in intelligence gathering and prosecution,” adds Gepty. “Enforcement programmes need to cover promotion, protection and coordination so that infringers are prosecuted together with other law breaches such as anti-money laundering.”

Areas for improvement

De Leon says IP owners should take responsibility for enforcing their own rights, while acknowledging that government can take action to make enforcement easier. “IP enforcement may be improved through heightened vigilance on the part of IP owners,” he says. “Government and law enforcement agencies tasked with the protection of intellectual property rights, on the other hand, should try to make it easier for IP owners to enforce their rights in the country by putting in place more pro-active IP enforcement systems within their offices designed to response time in taking action on complaints regarding IP violations.”

Gepty notes the importance of education in IP enforcement and says that the Department of Education will educate on the value and importance of IP, which is key to enforcement.

The deputy director says litigation, and dispute resolution generally, are other areas that could be improved to cut down on the time it takes for IP cases to go through the courts and the burden this puts on the system.  “There is the possibility of setting up an exclusive IP court,” says Gepty. “There are also plans to enhance alternative dispute resolution system so that litigants can mediate or arbitrate.”

Improvements being made

A number of legislative amendments have strengthened IP rights enforcement in the Philippines, while reducing the requirements for filing an action.

“The rules of procedure for intellectual property rights cases basically does away with certain aspects of general procedural rules that may only serve to delay and/or may not be applicable to the resolution of an IP violation case,” says De Leon. “The rules of procedure on intellectual property enforcement authorises the Intellectual Property Office to receive and act upon complaints involving IP violations and empowers the IPO to issue visitorial and compliance orders and warnings against suspected IP violators, to name a few.”

“In the Asian region, the Philippines is doing fairly well in IP rights protection primarily because of recent enforcement initiatives,” says De Leon. “Also, the past two to three years have seen a marked improvement in the efficiency in the prosecution of IP registrations, specifically trademarks, due in large part to the upgrading of the internal systems or work procedures of the Intellectual Property Office.”

“One of the aims with the action plan is that judges and prosecutors need to work together so that interpretations are the same,” says Gepty. “Laws that may be on the horizon include laws targeting optical images, e-commerce, privacy and unauthorised copying.”

With clear goals and aims, the IPR action plan is a well thought out roadmap for the Philippines as the country targets issues such as counterfeiting and focuses on more efficient IP enforcement and coordination. And it has not forgotten the role of education in IP enforcement.