Is it possible to harmonize IP law in the ASEAN?

The ASEAN Intellectual Property Action Plan to push harmonization of IP system in the region had been initially set up for 2011-2015. However, the differences in development of its member states proved to be an obstacle to a smooth harmonization process, which the ASEAN IPR Plan could not evade in set time frame.

Following the previous attempt, a new ASEAN IPR Action Plan has been agreed on for a longer period of time, from 2016 to 2025. The main goals such as transparency, public awareness or the access to international treaties remain the same; but the Plan itself is more detailed and includes developing regional IP platforms such as online filing systems for trademarks. Another point new IPR Plan will focus on is the strengthening of IP offices with special attention to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar, taking into account the level of development of the countries. Another important goal the Plan sets for the new period is enhancing the ASEAN engagement with stakeholders and external partners through IP associations and the private sector.

Despite this new and improved action plan, the harmonization of IP laws across the ASEAN will certainly meet further challenges. Indeed, tendency to over-regulate leads to a stricter IP regimes which, instead of encouraging them, could result in cutting down the innovation and the economy in the ASEAN. New Malaysian legislation on plain packaging for tobacco products is one of the latest examples, indeed a bit controversial, but still damaging to tobacco companies’ intellectual property rights.

Regional IP community has high expectations from the new Plan, particularly when it comes to enabling IP legal systems to support and enhance the economy of this emerging market as a whole. At that end, ASEAN still has to implement its motto ‘one vision, one identity, one community’, and this without doubt remains fundamental in order to keep the ASEAN region competitive on the global scale.