The United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman, recently released a summary statement of what the United States of America wishes to achieve from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. This included a summary of the US objectives about Intellectual Property Rights. These are:

  • Strong protections for patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, including safeguards against cyber theft of trade secrets;
  • Commitments that obligate countries to seek to achieve balance in their copyright systems by means of, among other approaches, limitations or exceptions that allow for the use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching,  scholarship and research;
  • Pharmaceutical IP provisions that promote innovation and the development of new, lifesaving medicines, create opportunities for robust generic drug competition, and ensure affordable access to medicines, taking into account levels of development among the TPP countries and their existing laws and international commitments;
  • New rules that promote transparency and due process with respect to trademarks and geographical indications;
  • Strong and fair enforcement rules to protect against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy, including rules allowing increased penalties in cases where counterfeit or pirated goods threaten consumer health or safety; and
  • Internet service provider “safe harbour” provisions as well as strong and balanced provisions regarding technological protection measures.

On the face of it, these objectives seek to achieve a balance between the monopoly rights provided to encourage innovation and investment in research and development, on the one hand, and the potential restrictions those monopoly rights can place on individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech and access to medicines, on the other. The devil, as always, will be in the detail.

It is inevitable that there will be tensions between countries, such as the US, which are net technology exporters and those countries, such as New Zealand, which are net technology importers. The meaning of "strong and balanced provisions regarding technological protection measures", for example, can be quite different when viewed from differing countries’ perspectives.

On a human level, it is encouraging to see an acknowledgement of the importance to ensure affordable access to medicines, while taking into account levels of development among the TPP countries and their existing laws and international commitments. The US position has always been that pharmaceutical intellectual property protection must be available to a level that will encourage the development of new and lifesaving medicines. The view has always been that countries other than the US must also encourage that development, even though that development may occur within the US. That the US is now taking into account levels of development among the TPP countries may indicate that a "one size fits all" result from the TPP negotiations is not an absolute requirement. Such flexibility is to be applauded.

The full Summary of US Objectives can be read here.