Friday sees the start of the latest (the 19th in
fact) round of talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. The country will play host to
sherpas – the negotiators that do the heavy lifting
before a deal is agreed – from the US, Australia, New
Zealand, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam,
Canada, Mexico and Japan.
IP is already proving one of the hardest topics to resolve.
That’s not surprising, given the gulf in economic
development between, say, Vietnam on the one side and the US on
government is understood to be pushing its trading partners to
accept a range of so-called TRIPs-plus measures on IP,
including patent term extensions and tougher rules on data
exclusivity. It’s not just about pharmaceutical
patents either. Negotiations continue to beef up regional rules
on well-known trade marks, relax rules on what constitutes a
trade mark and to give copyright owners more rights over their
So far, so what? The talks are simply rehashing old
arguments about the level of protection countries should offer
IP owners that have gone on since trade negotiators added IP to
the table in the 1990s.
But what makes these talks different is the lengths to which
negotiators are going to be seen to be open to all
stakeholders. ACTA negotiators were stung (and ultimately
beaten) by protestors angry about deals being conducted in
secret and parliamentarians cross about being asked to rubber
stamp agreements over which they had no control. Now many of
the deal makers are trying to improve levels of transparency in
Of course some of this is window dressing. In the September
issue of Managing IP we take a closer look at free trade deals
and what they mean for IP owners and hear from stakeholders on
both sides of the pharmaceutical patent divide. It still
appears that big pharma has more direct access to their
national negotiators than do groups that are sceptical about
the expansion of IP rights.
But negotiators are providing more opportunities than ever
for stakeholders to get involved. At the 16th round
of TPP talks, for example, negotiations were adjourned for a
day for meetings with some of the 300 stakeholders who were
able to make it to Singapore. In Brunei a morning has been set
aside for stakeholder presentations.
Such moves might not be enough to end complaints about
secrecy and the close relationship between governments and big
business. But they might help governments conclude an agreement
that is more palatable to their electorates. As ACTA
demonstrated, a one-sided deal can mean no deal at all.