12 Pacific countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) last week, the biggest trade deal in history. Along with many major Pacific states, the SE Asia signatories included Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The TPP will regulate the goods and services trade as well as investment intellectual property, labour, e-commerce and State owned enterprises. Once ratified by sufficient countries, there is a 2 year period to reform domestic laws.
Indonesia has indicated that it is considering joining. President Jokowi is keen but voices against opening up the economy are loud. The Philippines has said it will join too. In Thailand there was a loud outcry against the healthcare IP protections init, but now worries that Thailand may have missed the boat for 2 years are surfacing. A growing consensus seems to be that it will be better to be inside than outside, despite the modernizing pressures the TPP will force on some economies.
The TPP IPR chapter is controversial. It contains various requirements for higher level IP protection. The pharma and media/entertainment industries are said to be the major beneficiaries. The requirements include on the patent side, patent term extensions, Bolar provisions, protection of undisclosed regulatory test data and patent linkage for medicines marketing approval. The copyright term is to be extended by 20 years, anti-circumvention technologies are given extra protection and clearer internet intermediary liability rules are set out. IP enforcement is to be strengthened with stronger criminal liabilities.
The criticism is that smaller Asian markets are not ready for such far reaching reforms; what is in essence TRIPS+ protection. But IP Komodo worries that when activists decry all IP provisions as unfair, they reject the useful ones along with those which might well favour one developed world industry sector. In many of the less developed markets poor enforcement supports widespread low level business illegality which is endemic in the region. This is perhaps the most insidious harm caused to developing economies. Perhaps the rising tide of the TPP can lift many boats.