MILESTONE? | What does the exclusion from the US IP Watch List mean for the Philippines?

U.S. President Barrack Obama. AFP file photo

Coinciding with the first official visit of US President Barack Obama in the Philippines, the US announced its decision to remove the country from its list of states with insufficient intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement. Despite the long-standing criticisms over the purpose and the accuracy of the Special 301 Report on IPR of the US Trade Representative (USTR), this is still a milestone. For one, it took the Philippines 20 years to achieve the recognition.

The USTR Special 301 Report is a product of the unilateral assessment of the US on the IP protection and enforcement environment in its trading partners. The report categorizes its trading partners that do not adequately and effectively protect IPRs under “Priority Foreign Countries,” “Priority Watch List” and the ordinary “Watch List.” In 2013, the Philippines was listed under the ordinary Watch List, but subject to further review. The Philippines was first listed in 1989 and from 1994 to 2013, it remained on the list.

The US said the decision in favor of the Philippines is a recognition of its accomplishments in IP protection and enforcement and as an indication of support for the country’s continued progress in the area. Legal and regulatory reforms and related programs, which have been implemented to strengthen the country’s IP protection and enforcement mechanism, were cited as reasons for the favorable decision.

Going forward and as a result of the removal of the Philippines from the USTR Watch List, the Philippines can expect at least three things.

Great expectations

First, this surely enhances our image abroad. The government now bets that this will help bring in more foreign investors, particularly from the US. To any business, IP sits at its core. The main reason why businesses register and enforce their IPs such as patents, trademarks and copyrights is for them to prevent others from using their IPs without due compensation.

Second, this could boost the Philippines’s trade relations with the US. The Philippines is a top beneficiary of the US Generalized System of Preference (GSP). This refers to the US program that provides preferential duty-free entry for some products imported to the US. In 2012, the country ranked 6th with USD1.2 billion worth of trade received under the program.

Third, the latest development could also mean a higher chance for the Philippines to join future trade negotiations that involve the US such as the on-going talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The TPP is seen as the United States’ pivot to Asia. To date, it counts 12 Pacific bordering countries as the negotiating parties. These are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US.

Dubbed as a potentially high-quality Free Trade Agreement, the TPP seeks to set new standards for global trade and to incorporate next-generation issues such as the digital economy and green technologies. IP is one of the 29 chapters being discussed under the potential TPP agreement.

The Philippines joining the TPP talks maybe a long shot for now (with the country not yet officially invited), but with the recent removal of the Philippines from the infamous US IP Watch List, this link is something for us to consider.


Maricel holds an LL.M. degree in Intellectual Property and Competition Law from the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center. An experienced business and technology journalist, she continues to write about technology and intellectual property developments.