Overview of the LATAM IP systems from the Special 301 Report perspective

Rebeca Nieto
IP Expert at Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk

Every April since 1989, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) publishes the Special 301 Report. This report evaluates the level of adequacy and effectiveness provided by U.S. trading partners’ countries on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) protection and enforcement.

Although the Special 301 Subcommittee received IP data and information from more than 100 trading partners, this current edition is focused on 34 countries, which have been placed either on the Priority Watch List or Watch List.

Eleven countries are on the Priority Watch List: Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela. Under this category fall those countries that do not provide an adequate level of IPR protection, enforcement o market access, according to the USTR standards.

Twenty-three countries are on the lower-level Watch List: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

As regards Latin America, the Report highlighted the efforts and positive actions taken by these countries to face the existing IP challenges. Let’s see briefly some of them:

  • Mexico and Costa Rica are committed to use licensed software in their government agencies.
  • Brazil, Argentina, Dominican Republic are reducing their patent and trademark application backlogs by hiring new examiners, digitalizing internal procedures and increasing the efficiency of their online applications management systems.
  • Brazil has made significant progress in combating online piracy.
  • Ecuador, besides updating its IP system with the Ingenuity Code, had lowered its patent fees.
  • Costa Rica has improved its inter-agencies IP coordination mechanisms and increased IP criminal prosecutions.
  • Many countries are also enhancing their IP regimes by enacting new provisions -it is the case of Mexico, who has recently introduced a sui generis opposition procedure for trademark applications- or by entering into Patent Prosecution Highway (PHH) agreements -as for example the Pacific Alliance (Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) and PROSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay), in order to accelerate patent proceedings-.

On the other hand, the Report also detected a wide range of concerns that, according to the Office of USTR, may restrain innovation, competitiveness and investment on those countries. Some IP issues that remain unsolved or that have not been properly addressed are, among others, the following ones:

  • The fight against online piracy remains insufficient in many countries like Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia.
  • Piracy and counterfeiting are particularly widespread throughout Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Bolivia, Brazil or Colombia.
  • Illicit camcording, to be considered as a major way to obtain unauthorised copies of new movies, is spreading on Mexico and Peru.
  • Enforcement against suspected infringing goods at the border must be improved in many countries of this region. In this respect, different enforcement mechanisms are deemed essential, such as the creation of a formal customs recordal system in Costa Rica, enhance border control in Peru or authorization to Mexican customs agents for taking ex officio actions for goods in-transit.

The IP concerns and issues raised in this Report are dealt by the U.S. through bilateral dialogue or enforcement tools, including the WTO dispute settlement procedures.

Finally, it must be appointed that over the last years, the annual classification of countries made by this Report has remained almost unchanged in relation with Latin American countries. In this sense, the last alteration was 2015, when Ecuador switched from the Watch List to the Priority Watch List, place which occupied only once during the last decade.

However, and considering the continuous efforts and positive steps given in many Latin American IP systems, significant changes are expected on this list in the near future.

Get your patent grant quicker with the Pacific Alliance and PROSUR PPH

Rebeca Nieto
IP Expert at Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk

Over the past few years, Intellectual Property Offices around the world have been busy preparing and negotiating Patent Prosecution Highways (PPH) agreements.

Better known by its abbreviation, the PPH is a system of bilateral and multilateral agreements particularly aimed at reducing the costs and time of patent examinations among applicants and participating patent offices. For doing so, the system enables an applicant with allowable/ granted claims in a patent application of an Office of Earlier Examination (OEE) to obtain an accelerated process examination of sufficiently corresponding claims in applications filed (but not yet examined) in other offices -Office of Later Examination (OLE)-.

It must, however, be noted that under PPH the OLE agrees to expedite the examination process by using the data and information provided by the OEE; but following the territoriality principle of patents, it reserves the right to grant or deny the patent.

In Latin America, two regional key networks have been created, namely, Pacific Alliance and PROSUR.

On July 1st, 2016 the PPH Pilot Program of the Pacific Alliance, made up of Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Peru, came into force. Some months later, on September 15th, the PPH Pilot Program of PROSUR, formed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, came into force. Nonetheless, Brazil adherence to the PPH was on December 19th, 2016, while the final entry into force of Ecuador still  awaits the internal approval of its Government.

These Pilot Programs are expected to last 3 years, and renewable for an additional one. As we will see below, their implementation is carried out according to the guides prepared by the participating Industrial Property Offices, which establish the requirements, conditions and procedures to participate in the PPH Pilot Program.

For the purpose of giving certain flexibilities to the applicants, both networks decided to follow the “Mottainai” and the “PCT- PPH” modalities.

According to the PPH MOTTAINAI modality, an applicant can request to expedite its patent examination process at OLE using the results of the OEE, regardless of the office in which the first deposit occurs, provided that the OEE and OLE have signed a PPH MOTTAINAI agreement. By eliminating the directional requirement of the original PPH model, this alternative relaxes the requirements related to the order in which the applications were filed and the priority which they claimed.

Regarding the PCT- PPH, the OLE could utilize the positive results obtained in the PCT international phase to request accelerated processing in the national phase. In particular, in this modality OLE´s patent examiners can use the following work products:

  • the written opinion of the International Searching Authority (ISA),
  • the written opinion of the International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA), or
  • the international preliminary examination report issued within the framework of the PCT, subject to certain conditions.

In this region, WIPO has designated INPI (Brazil) and INAPI (Chile) as ISA/IPEA offices. According to this, the country members of the Pacific Alliance and PROSUR may benefit from the international PCT work elaborated by those offices.

To get a closer look at the system, let’s now see how the Pacific Alliance PPH system has worked for the Mexican inventor Sergio Fernando Grijalva, who was the first applicant within the PPH of the Pacific Alliance in filing and obtaining a patent granted.

His application was filed on March 3rd, 2016 in the National Institute of Industrial Property (INAPI). Once the PPH was requested, it was necessary to check if the application met the requirements set in the INAPI- IMPI’s guide to participate, which are:

  • The Chilean and the Mexican application must be equivalent, which means that they must have the same initial date, either the same priority date or the same filing date.
  • The corresponding application must have been examined substantively and have one or more claims considered by IMPI as patentable/ allowable.
  • All claims submitted for INAPI’S examination -as originally filed or as modified- must sufficiently correspond to one or more of the claims found patentable/ allowable by IMPI.
  • The application filed before INAPI shall has been published in the Official Gazette.
  • The substantive examination of the application of INAPI has not yet begun. In other words, the PPH must be requested before the examiner is appointed.

In the present case, the Mexican applicant was required to modify his application before INAPI as to make its claims sufficiently corresponding to the ones granted by IMPI. Thanks to this correction, the research and examination results done by IMPI could be used during INAPI´s patent prosecution.

As result of the prosecution of this patent by the PPH, the substantive examination process was executed in less than 3 months, which contributed to grant the patent in less than 12 months, rather than the 36 months that non-contentious patent application may take.

As we have seen, the existing PPH networks in Latin America can contribute effectively to speed up the substantive examination process of the participating offices, by avoiding the repetition of unnecessary administrative actions, while at the same time reduce related institutional and applicants’ costs. Moreover, and not previously mentioned, using these services do not, as a general rule, require additional fees.

For all of the reasons above mentioned, companies and inventors are encouraged to benefit from the existing PPH schemes. As for this purpose, if you are seeking patent protection internationally, you are highly recommended to verify the PPH agreements of those countries you are planning to expand your patent protection, as well as check out the modalities they adopted (i.e. “Mottainai” and “PCT- PPH”), as they can provide you an additional chance to successfully accomplish your patent registration in Latin America.