Trading Up: Beyond the Leaks: What Innovative Manufacturers Need to See in TPP

By November 19, 2013Trade

Poor Julian Assange. The very week the once celebrated purveyor of secret diplomatic tittle tattle hit the New York Times Magazine’s “meh” list (where pop culture memes go to die), his WikiLeaks site was flacking what could be the most boring scoop ever – a months old copy of the purported Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) intellectual property rights negotiating text.

The few trade geeks who follow this part of the negotiations quickly hit the snooze button. The text was more or less as expected – a dozen countries staking out their well-known and longstanding positions on patents, trademarks and copyrights largely in line with existing trade agreements that have been available publicly for many months, if not years.

But perhaps unintentionally, WikiLeaks did put the spotlight in the right place. Intellectual property is still being hotly debated as negotiations enter the end game. And decisions on how best to protect confidential information – and for how long – will help determine whether TPP truly delivers for innovative manufacturers. Two outcomes are essential:

First, strong trade secrets protection and enforcement commitments. Trade secrets are vital intangible assets for manufactures small and large. They include the special recipe that sets a food or beverage apart and the proprietary method that enables a family business to outperform its rivals.

Today, trade secrets have never been more valuable to manufacturers – or more vulnerable to theft. According to one estimate, publicly traded U.S. businesses own some $5 trillion worth of trade secrets. Yet trade secrets are often subject to much weaker legal protections than other intangible assets. Once disclosed, their value cannot be recovered.

In recent years, trade secrets misappropriation has risen rapidly due to greater global workforce mobility, increased international competition and the proliferation of digital devices that multiply opportunities for cyber theft. Indeed, the U.S. Cyber Command believes theft of trade secrets costs businesses in the United States a whopping $250 billion a year.

That’s why improving protection and enforcement of trade secrets in domestic laws and trade agreements is so critical. It’s time to update the world’s oldest form of intellectual property rights for the 21st Century. Countries as diverse as Canada, Chile, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand and the United States are leading the way. Others should join them.

Second, the TPP must provide a minimum of twelve years of regulatory data protection for biologic medicines and ensure all TPP countries undertake binding protections for biologics, as well as traditional pharmaceutical products. Protection that builds on commitments in the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement is vital to incentivize often small biomedical innovators to invest the time and tremendous resources needed to prove a new medicine is effective and secure regulatory approval.

Biologic medicines are highly complex and challenging to manufacture. They present unique considerations relative to other medicines containing traditional chemical active ingredients – both with respect to regulatory approval and effectively intellectual property rights protection.

Recognizing the value of innovative industries and providing a minimum level of protection would benefit countries and citizens across the Asia-Pacific region. Taken together, those countries currently have over 6,000 medicines in development. That figure includes the United States and Canada, but also Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia.

TPP negotiators meeting in Salt Lake City this week will be under plenty of pressure to reach a deal. The current negotiating text may reflect nearly as much disagreement as the outdated WikiLeaks version. But as final decisions are made, protecting trade secrets and regulatory data must be among them.

Long after the leaks are forgotten, manufacturers and the many livelihoods and local communities they support may be working within the rules TPP negotiators make in the coming weeks. Let’s get it right.

Trading Up is a blog series from manufacturers, which focuses on the need for a comprehensive, high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that eliminates barriers, creates concrete new market access and levels the playing field for manufacturers in the United States.

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