In between the death of one of the world’s best known unregistered trademarks being assassinated by the US and the copyright commons text of the forthcoming Federal budget released next week I know you’re all celebrating World Intellectual Property Day today.
But the annual celebration of events run by one of the few government agencies making a profit, IP Australia, does justify pause of the importance of IP as an economic driver. Or as the case may be – how it can not.
Over the past few years our government has managed to do something right and act to stop the international trade of counterfeit and pirated that undermines artists, innovators, and, let’s face it, legitimate big corporations of their money by negotiating a new treaty.
And under the negotiating skills of Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, and his team the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that focusing on enforcement against the illegal commercial IP trade, is coming up for the final all clear by the government.
Such a treaty might seem trivial, but the economic value of IP protected goods that are stolen adds up quickly.
Australian government commissioned reports have compiled data equating the trade to at least $1.8 billion in lost economic activity annually.
But as something that goes on in the black market it’s likely to be a lot higher.
Internationally a 2009 OECD study totalled the global trade of counterfeit and pirated good up to USD$250 billion, and that’s without goods bought and sold within countries and stolen stuff over the internet.
So you know those really cheap DVDs of movies that haven’t been at the cinema yet that you bring back from boozy beach holidays in Bali or Phuket? They’re someone’s copyright nicked.
That “Rolex” watch your dad bought back from his recent trip across the border into mainland China from Hong Kong only carries one trademark – dodgy. But take a deep breath. They’re not the focus of the treaty.
Instead it focuses on the guys who sell them to you and take your dollars from the real economy into the black market costing jobs and improvements in international economic and social welfare.
Worse, instead of 20th Century Fox and Rolex paying more tax, the money goes to guys who know the best form of tax minimisation is never to declare an income in the first place.
That means everyone actually working for a living pays a higher tax share instead. And the people profiteering aren’t your old school mates who burn dodgy discs from their wonderful unlabelled music and movie collection.
Increasingly the profiteers are criminal gangs who use it as a good source to collect cash to fund their other undesirable activities. These may appear to be absurd claims by the OECD, but when you think about it if you’ve had all your bank accounts frozen by foreign governments you’re likely to turn to the cash economy producing products where replication costs are disproportionately low to the final sale price.
And the trade is on its way up. The latest Customs Annual report highlights that there’s been a 40 per cent increase in notices against illegal trade in the past few years.
These groups also aren’t limiting themselves to music and movies, and instead focusing on things that affect your health including producing fake patented and generic medicines that don’t always include the ingredients you need, but are mislabelled under a trademark name you trust. It’s the same problem with the staggering 68 million counterfeit cigarettes seized last financial year by Customs.
Then there are the really important things.
Customs recently reported there’s been “a noticeable trend … [in] the significant amount of counterfeit beer detected”. It’s unlikely they meant Heineken you thought was brewed in the Netherlands but actually only came from Sydney under a licensing agreement.
Fortunately the final text of the treaty doesn’t require Australia to change any laws and just helps improve Australian IP owner’s protection in other countries, as well as encouraging greater international cooperation between enforcement agencies.
So as long as the treaty focuses on making sure that stubby you open includes the correct ratio of hops and barley most Australians should probably toast their support on World IP Day.