Thu, Mar 14, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Legal snags complicate IPR disputes

RED TAPE Foreign firms seeking redress for IPR violations in Taiwan's courts face a bureaucracy that domestic companies don't have to encounter

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER

A number of bureaucratic brick walls across Taiwan's legal system continue to hamper foreign firms attempting to protect their intellectual property in local courts, according to a foreign business group.

Long procedural delays, apparent bias against foreign firms and no legal mechanism that can reach into China's counterfeit havens where Taiwanese-operated firms pump out pirated goods are just some of the major issues raised by a recent meeting of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei's intellectual property rights (IPR) committee.

When presenting an intellectual property violation case before the court, foreign firms have to provide a complex series of documents proving the validity of their legal representation, wasting both time and money, according to John Eastwood, co-chair of the committee.

"It is a very serious problem when they're asking for documents to be notarized, and legalized ... and the original copies shuttled back and forth between Taiwan and Europe, Taiwan and the United States," said Eastwood, who is also of counsel with Qi Lin International Law Offices (齊麟國際法律事務所).

Lawyers for Taiwanese companies are virtually exempt from this problem as -- unlike their foreign counterparts -- they need only present the company "chops" of their employer for verification, said Danny Lin (林宗輝), legal counsel for Philips Electronics' IP and Standards department and a committee member.

Foreign firms however are required to provide notarized and legalized power of attorney documents, sometimes signed by the chairman of the company.

"It means that when intellectual property right owners find out that there's a factory producing counterfeits, it means that they can't act as quickly ... this is just a huge dance that people go through to try and protect their intellectual property rights in this country," Eastwood said.

`Special 301'

This issue, although seemingly small, has been a consistent thorn in the side of foreign firms in Taiwan, but has grown to take on added significance as the United States Trade Representative Office includes Taiwan in its evaluation of placement on its "special 301 watch list" of serious IPR violators, he said.

Taiwan officials have reportedly urged the US government not to include Taiwan on the list again this year, which is scheduled for release next month, claiming significant efforts have been made to improve IPR protection.

"It affects all of us. It's high time that they really started looking to fix [the problem] because it does affect national treatment ... [which is] the obligation under the WTO and TRIPS [Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] that foreign companies operating in Taiwan receive the same sort of treatment that local companies get," Eastwood said.

Bias against foreign firms -- whether intended or not -- also seems apparent in recent legislation that decriminalized IPR violations. Last October the legislature made amendments to the Patent Law (專利法) decriminalizing infringement of invention patents but leaving the criminal punishments unchanged for violations of new utility models and design patents.

Reduced protection

However, shifting the burden of investigation and meting out punishment to the relatively toothless civil code reduces IPR protection for foreign firms.

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