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Intellectual property rights in global trade

Updated September 23, 2013


Image taken from the Dawlance website.
Image taken from the Dawlance website.

Over the past 10 years, a little over a dozen Pakistani brands were launched in the global marketplace. Inspired by their success, many more are now aspiring to explore new possibilities overseas.

If the trend picks up, it can help push up exports of the value-added, high priced quality products.

While securing a place in a crowded global marketplace is difficult, the lack of respect for intellectual property rights (IPR) in the country makes the task more daunting. Pakistan’s perception as a violator of IPR does not help local firms in not so conducive international environment.

Some food and beverage companies, engineering firms, drug makers, textile and garment producers, and leather product makers have opened shops or occupy shelves in super stores in Middle East, Far East, Africa, North America and Europe.

Better known Pakistani brands venturing overseas include names such as Guard, Mughal, Dawlance, Pak Fans, Hashmi Surma, Stillman bleach cream, United Kings, Century products, Shan, National Foods, Gul Ahmed, Chen One, Bareeze, Amir Adnan, Jaffarjees, Hub leather and Getz pharma, among others.

The visibility of local brands in the global market, therefore, appears to be more of an outcome of initiatives undertaken by the more experienced entrepreneurs in the business community. But it does not necessarily indicate that the economy is entering the next stage of development.

The stark reality is reflected in the relevant data. Hardly 10 per cent of the business entities are trademarked. The government, or the trade and professional bodies, are preoccupied with more pressing problems to focus on the IPR issue.

“It is a fact that the awareness to conform to international standards and to invest in intangibles assets to build businesses is low in Pakistan,” said a lawyer associated with a leading law firm that deals in trademarks and other intellectual property rights-related disputes.

“The legal groundwork has been done under WTO tutelage, but the institutional framework is weak. Instead of complying with international norms of trade and manufacturing practices, the natural process of development of businesses is obstructed,” said the lawyer.

To comply with the requirements of the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) agreement, the Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) was created in 2005 to bring trademark, patent and copyright offices under one umbrella.

However, the representatives of law firms dealing with IPR-related issues believe that IPO has failed to evolve into a vibrant entity to measure up to the challenges it faces in corruption-prone environment..

“Only companies that have gathered critical mass and aspire to gain a footprint in the global market engage law firms to handle IPR affairs. Others get their work done through agents at the trademark registry to save time and avoid tension,” said Majyd Aziz, a well connected business leader.

Meanwhile, Tariq Feroze, the IPO Director General, dispelled the impression that his organization was inactive.. He told Dawn over telephone from Islamabad that he has busted the nexus of corruption in the trademark registry office in Karachi, and is in the process of putting in place technically sound officers at the trademark, copyright and patent offices.

“We have already advertised the position of chairman IPO. The constitution of the board will accelerate the process of making IPO a facilitator and promoter of intellectual property rights in the country,” he said.

“By November, we hope to inaugurate our new Karachi office, which will house all three registries (trademark, copyright and patents) under one roof to further facilitate the private sector,” he informed.

“Pakistan did achieve some success in this area when it managed to move from the ‘priority watch list’ of IPR violators issued by the US Trade Representative (USTR) office to the ‘watch list,’ which marked an improvement in the compliance with the IPR conditions,” he pointed out.

However, the change in Pakistan’s status was not confirmed by the relevant information on the internet. The 2013 Special Report of the USTR clearly states the US government’s position. The report includes Pakistan among the 10 worst violators of IPR on the ‘priority watch list,’ along with Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand and Venezuela.

DG Feroze did speak of weak enforcement of laws during the conversation, and mentioned some correspondence between the IPO and the police department in this regard.

“We require the services of the FIA, police and customs for enforcement. Unfortunately, these agencies are not properly equipped to do the needful. Of all three, the police have so far been of least assistance, as they have no separate force to deal with IPR violators. Besides, their forces are thinly spread because of the prevailing law and order situation,” commented Feroze.

He stressed the need for coordinated efforts for enforcing intellectual property rights to check counterfeiting and piracy.

Meanwhile, people privy to IPO affairs told Dawn from Islamabad that the organisation is used by senior officers as a launching pad to develop links in multilateral organisations.

“The bureaucratic hierarchy uses positions at such bodies as IPO for foreign junkets to plan and prepare for life post-retirement. These technical positions should only be given to qualified individuals with a solid corporate track record if Pakistan wishes to do better in the area,” said an insider.

On the other hand, a private company, Brand Foundation, which promotes local brands, has so far been acting more as a public relation and event management outfit. However, its work was acknowledged by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which granted it the status of an observer.

“The situation is chaotic. The violation of IPR is rampant. It works against citizens by exposing them to the danger of substandard products. And it harms the country as foreign companies turn away because of weak IPR enforcement. Unfortunately, the judiciary has not been able to do much either,” commented Kamran Mirza, CEO of the Pakistan Business Council.