GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 40 countries are launching a renewed push for an anti-counterfeiting accord in Tokyo this week, a non-governmental organization monitoring the secretive talks said on Thursday. Civil society critics of the negotiations say the new deal would provide a platform for rich nations to impose on developing countries tough intellectual property rules that go well beyond existing global agreements.
They say that could disrupt trade in legitimate generic drugs going to poor countries by allowing searches and seizures of the products when in transit in participating countries, something that has already occurred in the European Union. James Love, president of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) monitoring intellectual property questions, said the Tokyo talks could try to narrow the scope of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
“There’s been a lot of criticism that under the title of an anti-counterfeiting agreement they’ve tried to throw a lot of other things into the agreement that have nothing to do with counterfeits or piracy,” he told reporters.
This would pit the European Union, which wants ACTA to cover a broad range of intellectual property issues, against the United States, where in recent months businesses have grown worried that ACTA could extend criminal sanctions into questions of patent infringement now settled by civil litigation.
The talks are of interest not only to makers of brand-name and generic drugs, but also to media companies like Time Warner and Hollywood film producers, makers of luxury goods, and Internet service providers and other Web firms that could come under pressure to police content more strictly.
Love said the ACTA talks were so secretive that the governments involved were not even revealing the list of officials participating or the agendas of meetings. The latest round in Tokyo will run until the end of the month.
Only one draft text has been published, on the orders of the European Parliament, and other texts have been leaked.
“It allows the negotiators to lie about what’s in the text -- which has often been the case,” Love told reporters.
European negotiators had repeatedly argued ACTA would not affect access to drugs because it would not cover patents, but the texts suggested it could extend to patents, he said.
European officials say ACTA aims to tackle a flood of counterfeit drugs posing a health threat as well as other pirated goods that undermine innovation, while generic drugs are a matter of patent ownership.
India has launched a dispute at the World Trade Organization over EU seizures of generics en route to Brazil.
The August 25 draft of the ACTA text obtained by the NGO shows the EU wants it to cover intellectual property, which could include patents, while the United States and some other countries talk only of trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy, though retaining the option to extend it to other areas.
David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, confirmed that ACTA talks were taking place but declined to give details of the U.S. position.
“The United States would very much like to see ACTA concluded and supply a viable means for improved enforcement of intellectual property rights,” he told a news conference.
The EU is also keen for ACTA to provide protection to geographical indicators -- names of foods and drinks based on a place of origin such as Champagne or Parma -- an approach resisted by the United States and other New World producers.
The talks involve the United States, the European Union and its 27 member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland, and two developing countries -- Morocco and Mexico.
Editing by Tim Pearce