Don't fear intellectual property changes under TPP – lawyer

New Zealand will be encouraged to be bolder about changes to the intellectual property framework within the Trans-Pacific Partnership today.

Law firm Baldwins Intellectual Property will encourage negotiators to shake off fears about what the United States wants from TPP trade talks in an address to the 15th round of talks in Auckland this morning.

As a technology exporter, the US is primarily concerned about extending intellectual property (IP) rights, with a focus on the extension of patents for pharmaceuticals.

But New Zealand, a technology importer, is concerned about undue extensions of IP rights and does not want to give anything away – particularly control of the government’s drug buying agency Pharmac.

Baldwins' partner Wes Jones says New Zealand needs to be more confident that its companies will also benefit from proposed changes to the IP framework.

“The IP side of TPP presents an opportunity to increase investment in New Zealand and will make it easier for local innovators to obtain IP protection in TPP countries – which will grow NZ business and increase our export revenue.”

The changes could help create more successful technology exporters such as Fisher & Paykel, Glidepath, Lanzatech, Xero, Fonterra, Navman, Gallaghers and Icebreaker, Mr Jones says.

“To succeed and grow, these companies all look to markets outside of New Zealand. They all need to have commercially relevant IP rights available to allow an adequate return on R&D investment and to encourage them to continue to invest and grow.”

Within TPP negotiations, New Zealand should focus on opportunities to reduce procedural barriers to obtaining IP rights in all the countries that are a party to the negotiations, not just the US, he says.

Challenges on the IP side

The challenge for most New Zealand innovators is how to protect IP in target markets and then how to generate a return from that protected IP.

Concerns have been raised about the US requirements for a WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) plus an approach to IP within the TPP negotiations.

So far, New Zealand’s approach to the TPP negotiations appears to be one of fear that any change in the current levels of IP rights will stifle innovation and increase health costs here.

But Mr Jones says a targeted expansion of IP rights could actually increase innovation here and international investment in New Zealand’s pharmaceutical, IT and agricultural sectors, for example.

“Part of that targeted expansion may involve pharmaceutical patent term extensions resulting from delays in the registration process. Health costs may grow, but only as a result of any delays in registering the medicines in New Zealand,” Mr Jones says.

“The more efficient the registration process is, the less impact that expansion of intellectual property rights will have.

“To encourage New Zealand companies to develop into exporting entities, the risks involved in obtaining intellectual property rights internationally need to be reduced as much as possible.”

Mr Jones suggests the following issues could be addressed in trade talks around proposed IP changes:

  • Requirements to legalise and notarise documents in South American countries.
  • Patent attorney privilege in Canada.
  • Unity of invention differences between the US and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
  • Extension of the registered design priority period to 12 months.

Mr Jones will outline these benefits in his address to the TPP talks today.

This article was originally published on The National Business Review (http://www.nbr.co.nz)