Enforcement Actions

Singapore has its Patents, Trade Marks and Copyright Acts. Patent protection lasts 20 years, while copyright protection lasts 50 years (soon to be increased to 70 years by US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement) after the death of the author. In an infringement action, the issue to consider is whether the patent registration is valid and if the monopoly granted to it covers the alleged infringement. In a copyright infringement, a defendant who has copied will usually lose the action unless he comes with defences. The specific interest group defences include libraries, educational institutions and broadcasting organizations, while the general public interest defences include fair dealing for private study or research, for criticism or review, for reporting current events and back-ups for computer software.

Only civil remedies are available for patent and design infringement and passing off. Both civil and criminal remedies are available for trade marks and copyright infringement.

With the tremendous growth in international trade in recent years, intellectual property rights have gained greater prominence in international trade negotiations, as in the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. At the global level, there is the need for an effective system of international intellectual property rights protection and enforcement. The usefulness of any intellectual property system depends largely on the enforcement of intellectual property rights against counterfeiters and pirates.

Well-known cases of intellectual property infringement include pirated compact and laser discs, computer software and counterfeit aircraft and pharmaceutical chemicals. To ensure that international intellectual property protection remains viable and relevant in a rapidly changing world, TRIPS has laid the foundation for common border control measures and for enforcement of criminal procedures. TRIPS sets out the minimum framework needed for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. Both the Beme Convention and the Paris Convention contain less detailed enforcement obligations than those in TRIPS.

The enforcement procedures under Part 3 of TRIPS permitting effective action against infringement include expeditious remedies to prevent infringement, where such remedies and penalties are to deter further infringement. These enforcement procedures are not to be costly and unnecessarily complicated as to impede enforcement.

One of TRIPS' main provisions in the enforcement of intellectual property rights is the awarding of damages to compensate for loss caused by an infringement. Apart from damages, the infringer is to pay the right holder's expenses and legal fees. Recovery of profits is appropriate where an infringer does not knowingly engage in infringing activity.

The threat of litigation can sometimes be an obstacle to apotential infringer. Litigation in the intellectual property field can be very costly and should be avoided. There are also the internal costs to the client's business such as lost employee time to consider. Depending on the seriousness of the infringement, direct approaches to infringers may sometimes offer abetter solution. These include sending "cease and desist" letters or visiting the infringers directly.

However an important part of the enforcement process is education. Informing intellectual property owners of their rights to products is not only an effective way of discouraging infringement but also makes it difficult for an infringer to put up a defence of innocence. Alternative dispute resolution procedures and arbitration are other convenient ways of resolving intellectual property rights cases in Singapore.

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