In January 2018, Thailand’s efforts to strengthen its IP system and enforcement processes for counterfeit and pirated goods were recognised with the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) removing Thailand from its Priority Watch List for intellectual property.
Thailand had been on the USTR Priority Watch List for more than a decade.
On the Priority Watch List
In April 2017, the USTR published the Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property Rights. The report included Thailand on its Priority Watch List, due to ‘widespread availability of counterfeit and pirated goods’ and ‘lack of effective and deterrent enforcement measures.’
Further reasons cited for this classification were backlogs in pending patent applications, failure to include landlord liability provisions in the Copyright Act B.E. 2558 (A.D. 2015), widespread use of unlicensed software, lengthy civil IP enforcement proceedings, low civil damages for infringements and extensive cable and satellite signal theft.
While placing Thailand on the Priority Watch List, the USTR noted Thailand’s ‘strong political commitment’ to IP protection, especially in terms of the country’s IP Roadmap, announced on January 26 2017, which highlighted goals for effective enforcement and timely prosecution of registrations.
In 2016, the Thai Department of Intellectual Property increased the number of patent and trademark examiners, which has helped expedite prosecution processes and clear large backlogs. By April 2017, investigations and raids had also become more frequent and effective.
Between January and May 2017, 3,273 IP infringement cases were prosecuted, with 1.69 million infringing goods seized. Compared to the same period of 2016, this represents a 4.58% increase in number of cases and 26.56% reduction in number of goods seized.
The USTR continued to encourage Thailand to improve efforts to investigate and pursue IP cases. This included issuing deterrent sentences against infringers, addressing online piracy more rigorously, clarifying notice and take down procedures and establishing reliable measures to prevent and counteract unfair commercial use and/or unauthorized disclosure of scientific data to public agencies for the purpose of obtaining marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products.
Removal from the Priority Watch List
Between April 2017 and January 2018, under the bilateral US-Thailand Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, measures were taken to further Thailand’s efforts to strengthen its IP system.The USTR considered these ‘corrective actions’ sufficient reason to move Thailand from the Watch List, as announced in its January 2018 Out-of-Cycle Review (OCR) Results.
In the review, it was noted that Thailand had proved its commitment to IP by establishing the National Committee on IP Policy (chaired by the Prime Minister) and a subcommittee on enforcement against IP infringement. Concerns raised in the April 2017 Report were also efficiently addressed, with ‘enhanced and sustained enforcement efforts to combat counterfeit and pirated goods throughout the country’, patent and trademark application backlogs constantly being reduced, increased procedural efficiency, and the government’s pledge to ‘improve transparency related to pharmaceutical issues’. Thailand also adopted a novel approach to mitigate its exclusion of landlord liability provisions in the new Copyright Act by sending letters to property owners requesting that they warn tenants to refrain from selling counterfeit and pirated goods and monitor this.
In January 2018, the Digital Economy and Society Ministry shut down 10 websites believed to be selling pirated goods. Evidence is being collected to shut down another twenty, and tax nvestigations are being employed as a tool against individuals who have profited from the sale of pirated goods through online social media platforms.
As Thai news coverage of raids and developments in national and international IP law increases, it is expected that awareness of, and respect for, IP rights will grow among the general public, contributing to the sustainability of the recent positive results.
Thailand’s removal from the Priority Watch List is a major achievement for the progress of IP in Thailand and both Thai and international IP owners can now have greater confidence that their IP will be respected and protected in Thailand.