PH remains out of US Special 301 IP Watchlist

Strong enforcement measures have kept the Philippines out of the United States’ (US) watchlist, which flags countries with pressing concerns in intellectual property (IP) rights protection, while also successfully eliminating an allegation raised since 2019. 

“We welcome the country’s continued exclusion from the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report, an achievement since 2014 that helps promote the Philippines as a vibrant investment place for US and other foreign businesses,” Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) Director General Rowel Barba said in a statement Sunday. 

Barba said they are pleased with the removal of the erroneous finding that the government uses unlicensed software, a claim which it has repeatedly disproved.  

In its explanations to the USTR, IPOPHL had cited Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2002, which by laying down stringent eligibility requirements, adequately ensures that only legitimate bidders with genuine, authorized, and good quality products can participate in the bidding process. 

Also cited were issuances such as Executive Order No. 262, series of 2000 titled “Providing Policies, Guidelines, Rules and Regulations for the Procurement of Goods/Supplies by the National Government” and Memorandum Circular No. 115 issued on April 5, 1995, all of which direct government offices to only acquire licensed software. 

Moreover, IPOPHL provided the US Embassy a breakdown –as provided by the Department of Budget and Management– of government agencies’ spending to procure licensed software. 

Barba said the reduced areas of concerns is testament to IPOPHL’s whole-of-society work in leading the enforcement efforts of the 12-member National Committee on IP Rights (NCIPR) and in collaborating with pertinent private stakeholders. 

“As NCIPR acting chair, IPOPHL lauds our members, the Department of Trade and Industry; Department of Justice; Bureau of Customs (BOC); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); National Bureau of Investigation; Philippine National Police; Optical Media Board; National Book Development Board; Office of the Special Envoy on Transnational Crime; Department of the Interior and Local Government; and National Telecommunications Commission for another job well done. We also thank our stakeholders from the private sector who continue to willingly participate in enforcement discussions, sharing our goal of creating a culture of respect of IP in the country,” Barba said.

IPOPHL deputy director general Teodoro Pascua said the whole-of-society work will continue while IPOPHL also coordinates with the USTR to address remaining allegations, namely the slow opposition and cancellation proceedings, geographical indication (GI) provisions, and the country being a source of counterfeit medicines. 

“IPOPHL continues to provide facts-based answers showing that our administrative proceedings on opposition and cancellation have been improving. As for the findings on GI, we will take note of the USTR’s comments and elevate them to Congress when it crafts laws on GI,” Pascua said. 

He said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report tags the country as a source of counterfeit drugs, as cited by the USTR, dates back to 2014 to 2016, and thus fails to consider the many efforts taken thereafter.

“Nevertheless, IPOPHL remains to take the concern seriously, counterfeit medicines being a life-and-death matter,” he said, adding its NCIPR members, the FDA, and BOC remain aggressive in preventing the entry of counterfeit pharmaceuticals into the country. 

Pascua also expressed hopes that the bill to amend the IP Code, including doubling the fines and penalties on counterfeiters of medicines and other products which pose danger to life and health, will soon be passed into law. 

At present, three bills to update the IP Code –House Bills 8062, 1597 and 8620– are being consolidated at Congress on a committee-level. 

“We hope, as in the case of the government use of unlicensed software, our merits on other issues will also be considered and resolved,” Pascua said.