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.