A document allegedly exposing New Zealand negotiators’ position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty has been leaked by US consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
This has led to a re-emergence of fears that hard-line intellectual-property champions could renew a push towards the punitive regime against IP infraction that they have so far failed to achieve under the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
Negotiations on the TPP agreement began in Auckland today.
The position document seems on the face of it to reflect a cautious attitude to extending IP protection significantly beyond the current TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement.
“A range of difficulties have emerged for TPP seeking to strengthen IP standards beyond those agreed to in TRIPS,” it says. “Analysis of the costs and benefits of IP protection shows that there is a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents.”
With improved networking technology, it has become easier to access and exploit information on current innovation, says the document Consequently, “many innovations are occurring in a rapid and sequential manner either through the clustering of innovation or by one innovator moving to quickly build on the work of another.
“In this environment, more people are arguing that overly strong IP rights can act as an inhibitor rather than as a promoter of innovation. Many of these claims are being made not just by users but by innovators themselves.”
New Zealand IP lawyer Rick Shera says on his blog the document shows NZ negotiators “see TRIPS as the high water mark for IP law and its enforcement and would resist any attempts to go beyond that.”
It seems “in general [they] view the push for stronger IP protection to be premature and its need unsupported by evidence; [and they] doubt that a ‘one size fits all’ model can ever work anyway,” he says. The document comments that differences in countries’ “size, incomes, levels of development and economic structure” suggest appropriate levels of protection should be different.
The negotiators, Shera says, appear to “prefer that TPP stick to enhancing cooperation between treaty countries so that resources are used more efficiently, cross-border registration of existing rights (especially patents and trademarks) is streamlined and enforcement regimes are of a higher quality rather than necessarily being stronger.”
However, champions of a liberal point of view are still disquieted that it took a leak to acquaint New Zealanders with the position their government is taking on their behalf.
A statement from the TechLiberty lobby organisation quotes spokesman David Zanetti: “We're disappointed that we're reduced to finding the NZ government's position through document leaks. Why can't these position papers be published for everyone to see? It's not like they're secret from the other negotiating countries.”