On May 2, 2011, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced the results of its Annual 301 Report, listing those countries which it deems do not provide sufficient protection to intellectual property rights owners.
As part of the report process, an Out-of-Cycle Review was conducted by the USTR in Thailand at the beginning of 2011, by interviewing members of the public and private sectors in order to gather feedback. Representatives of international stakeholders, such as PhRMA and other NGOs, were also able to submit their yearly reports.
For the fourth year in a row, Thailand was maintained on the Priority Watch List, a negative ranking that was first given to Thailand in 2007, after the announcement of the first compulsory licenses on medicines.
In regard to the pharmaceutical industry, the USTR’s past concerns remain largely the same in 2011. The USTR recommended that the Thai government should involve owners of IP rights further, “as it considers ways to address Thailand’s public health challenges, while a patent system promotes investment, research and innovation.”
In other words, the USTR’s position is that countries should have the right to protect public health, while also promoting access to medicines, as provided by the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS. Moreover, the USTR has been quite clear in stating that in the negotiation of bilateral, regional, or international agreements, the United States will require compliance with U.S. IP laws.
However, the same countries should also concurrently support the “role of the patent system in promoting the development and creation of new and innovative lifesaving medicines.”
The Thai government has indeed shown its intent in past years to improve weaknesses in the current system, such as the proposed liability of landlords for trademark infringement occurring on their premises. However, some important issues remain unsettled and IP associations, along with rights holders, are continuing to lobby for improvements in the protection and patent registration process in regard to pharmaceutical products.
With the dissolution of the House of Representatives on May 9, 2011, and the adoption of new legislation and policies put on hold until the election of a new government in July, all parties will wait with bated breath to see whether the newly elected government adopts a pro-IP position to protect the interests of rights owners in the country.