The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has initiated its annual Special 301 Review which is used to determine whether or not U.S. trading partners are providing adequate access for U.S. products protected by intellectual property law and aggressively pursuing infringements of those rights. Countries that fail on one or both counts can be placed on Watch Lists, signifying that they are at risk of having their access to U.S. markets significantly curtailed.

The USTR opens this process up to public comment and requests that interested persons provide negative or positive input about their experiences in foreign markets.

This year’s public request for comments has been used to express wide concern about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) currently being negotiated between the United States, the European Union, and nine (9) other countries. The ACTA proposes to establish international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement as a response to the increase in the global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated works, in particular over the Internet. Accusations are that the negotiations are being conducted “in secret” and outside of the framework of an established international organization. The USTR has provided some information about the ACTA and current state of play on its website — http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/factsheets/2009/asset_upload_file917_15546.pdf

The question does remain: why is there the need to step outside of the framework provided by the comprehensive rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) negotiated and subscribed to by 153 countries? Anyone with further insight or questions is encouraged to comment.

© Andrea M. Ewart, P.C., 2010. This article may be reprinted or republished with permission and attribution.