By Bandula Sirimanna MALDIVES – Sri Lanka’s enforcement mechanism on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) has been rated high by a top official of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In an interview with the Business Times on the sidelines of a 2-day Regional Workshop on Building Respect for Intellectual Property (IP) on February 13 [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

WIPO pledges to assist Sri Lanka’s IPR protection initiatives


By Bandula Sirimanna

MALDIVES – Sri Lanka’s enforcement mechanism on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) has been rated high by a top official of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

In an interview with the Business Times on the sidelines of a 2-day Regional Workshop on Building Respect for Intellectual Property (IP) on February 13 (Wednesday) in the Maldivian capital Male, Counsellor Building Respect for IP Division WIPO, Omar Katbi said that he was very impressed about Sri Lanka’s country report which highlighted efforts to put the brakes on the illegal trade in fake goods within its borders.

The country’s action to deal with increasingly complex infringement cases through coordinated efforts of the judiciary, customs authorities and the police, is extremely praiseworthy, he said.

He noted that a good dose of political will and private sector involvement is essential for the country towards building respect for intellectual property.

WIPO is willing to assist Sri Lanka through its vast in-house and external network of technical expertise and experience in the field of using intellectual property assets in developing and sustaining competitive advantage in the marketplace, he revealed.
Mr. Katbi has requested Sri Lankan authorities to submit a country proposal for WIPO assistance for IPR before October this year to include it in their agenda for 2014.

He stressed the need of broadening and coordinating intelligence work within all the government departments involved in combating piracy, counterfeiting and other IP-related crime.

Picture shows Maldives Economic Development Minister with WIPO counsellor and other officials

Mr. Katbi emphasised that the Sri Lankan government should invest significant resources in the area of IPR protection, and the resulting actions receive high profile media attention.

He pointed out that the media has a vital role to play in creating awareness among consumers not to be lured by low prices into buying shoddy goods.

They should disseminate the message of buying a cheap product is only worthwhile if that product is legal and of decent quality, he said.

He was of the view that Sri Lankan consumers should be warned about the danger of buying faked medicinal drugs at cheap prices with top brand names.

But generics are not faked products, he added. The awareness programmes should be designed not only to alert people to the risks inherent in buying pirated goods but, more broadly, to promote an IP culture in Sri Lanka, encouraging consumers to prefer genuine products, he added.

The objective of sensitising businesses and consumers to the negative impact of IP crime and generally promoting greater respect for IP rights, can be accomplished in a relatively short time with the commitment and vision of government and the support of WIPO and its international partners including Japan, he revealed.

The WIPO Regional Workshop on ‘Building Respect for Intellectual Property’ was inaugurated in Male by Ahmed Mohamed, Minister for Economic Development Maldives. It was organised under the auspices of WIPO with the assistance of the Japanese Patent Office and Ministry of Economic Development, Maldives, Delivering the inaugural address Minister Mohamed said that building respect for IP is significant to highlight the issues relating to this sector and the Regional Workshop would help to explore new concepts for policy development.

He disclosed that with the assistance of WIPO, they have drafted a bill on Industrial Property Rights which will be submitted to the Parliament soon.

Kenji Onodera, Assistant Director, Regional Policy Office, International Affairs Division, Japan Patent Office (JPO), Tokyo said that special emphasis has been laid on capacity building measures of WIPO member countries for protection of IP rights and JPO has always supported such activities with the cooperation of IP Regional offices and other stakeholders.

Mr. Katbi told the 24 delegates from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malaysia and Maldives that the strategic importance of intellectual property is being threatened by the escalation of counterfeiting and piracy.
As such, the enforcement of intellectual property rights is essential to the economic growth of a country and to secure the credibility of the legal system.

However, law enforcement alone will not address the problem. Of vital importance is to raise public awareness in order to curb the consumer demand for infringing goods, he said. The 24 participants of the WIPO Regional Workshop renewed their pledge for initiating public awareness activities about protection of IP Rights in their respective countries especially sensitizing masses about the negative impacts of pirated and counterfeited products.

Presenting country reports, heads of delegates who attended the workshop highlighted the IPR protection measures and awareness campaigns being carried out in their respective countries.
High Court Judge Ruwan Fernando who is also the Director of the Sri Lanka Judges Institute said that Sri Lanka has taken strong legal measures to enforce IP rights, so that rights’ holders can successfully confront counterfeiters and other parties involved in making counterfeit goods in circulation.

Sri Lanka has already set up an anti piracy and counterfeiting specialised unit in the Criminal Investigation Department to tackle the increasing incidents of infringements of intellectual property related crimes, he disclosed.
Rasika Wijekoon, Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Industries and Commerce and acting assistant director at IP office Colombo revealed that IP facilitation centres will be set up in all districts in the country to support business community and the public in IP related issues.

Stepping up enforcement on businesses violating provisions of the Intellectual Property LawThe Anti-Piracy and Counterfeit Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lanka Police is conducting raids to crack down on companies suspected of infringing intellectual property rights, Ruwan Fernando, Director, Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute and High Court Judge revealed.
This special unit was set up with assistance from the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the Business Software Alliance SA) to tackle the increasing incidences of infringements of intellectual property rights, which result in the piracy and counterfeit of original creations of industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields, he added.
A total 102 cases on IPR were filed before courts citing Software piracy in Sri Lanka and nine cases are pending while eight cases were settled outside courts.
This includes a raid recently carried out by the Unit against a company suspected to be using pirated and unlicensed software of members of the Business Software Alliance and found pirated and unlicensed software including Abode, Autodesk and Microsoft, he said.
The use of pirated and unlicensed software in businesses is a criminal offence under the IP Act.
The advice of the Attorney General has been sought for eight cases, he said adding that the magnitude and effects of counterfeiting and piracy are of such significance that they demand strong and effective enforcement action from governments, business and consumers who are directly affected by counterfeiting and piracy.
Provision have been made empowering Magistrates to make the orders including summons and warrant for arrest, warrant for seizure, forfeiture upon conviction and disposal of forfeited goods upon receipt of information of an IP offence being committed including in respect of counterfeit and pirated goods, Mr. Fernando said.
The consistent efforts of the National IP office, the Police and the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and their respective anti-piracy drive including awareness, education, training and infrastructure have contributed to lowering the piracy rate, he revealed.
Enforcement mechanism also includes border measures such as assistance of the customs officers for consistent interception of counterfeit and pirated goods in transit to avoid Sri Lanka becoming a transit country for counterfeit and pirated goods.
The Sri Lanka Customs has taken steps towards the registration process in 2010 and so far, 42 trademark owners have been registered with the Customs from 2010 to 2012. Today, most brand owners follow this process of registering their trademarks with customs in order to facilitate the detection of counterfeit shipments of their brands.

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