"What is trade related intellectual property rights" is a common question asked in recent years. Intellectual capital and intellectual property are becoming essential for businesses to stay on top in a competitive market. One way in which these IP rights are being protected is through the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement.

An Overview of the TRIPS Agreement

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, also referred to as TRIPS, is one of the more comprehensive and vital international agreements regarding intellectual property rights across the globe. The many countries that are members of the World Trade Organization are bound by this intellectual property agreement and responsible for enforcing it. 

The agreement covers a number of intellectual property areas including:

  • Copyright
  • Trademarks
  • Geographical indications
  • Trade secrets
  • Industrial design
  • Plant patents

The TRIPS Agreement went into effect in January 1995 and was created after numerous meetings and conventions regarding intellectual property rights. The WTO has 148 countries as members as of 2005 and requires all parties to submit to the specific agreements regarding trade and international property that have been drafted by the organization. By being members, they chose to abide by all the agreements unless the agreement was termed as obligatory. 

This type of agreement is unique in the fact that all members must adhere to it to retain their membership, which makes the TRIPS Agreement a powerful tool for protecting intellectual property rights. The agreement sets provisions to deal with all international trade principles regarding intellectual property, including both national and most-favored-nation treatment. 

The agreement clearly defines all of the exceptions and limitations that are required to create the necessary balance between the interests of the intellectual property with economic and public health necessities. While most of the countries that were members were required to implement the provisions by January of 1996, those countries that were considered to be developing were given an added 10 years to implement the agreement as it relates to the area of pharmaceuticals.

There are a few downfalls associated with the agreement that can cause some difficulty regarding intellectual property protection, Some of the areas of concern are:

  • The agreement is more than 10 years old, so it does not address current concerns
  • The agreement only sets the minimum standards, not the ceiling

To rectify some of the issues, the World Intellectual Property Organization has developed internet treaties set up to deal with digital copyright issues. 

TRIPS Agreement Obligations

There are multiple rules, obligations, and trade-related aspects of intellectual property that the TRIPS Agreement addresses. Some of the obligations signers of the agreement must follow include:

  • Adhering to the criteria for IP monopoly grants and their limited duration
  • Adhering to the requirements set forth in all WTO conventions
  • Agreeing to follow the enforcement provisions as well as implement the listed methods of dispute

The Agreement also outlined the transition periods that each member must adhere to, to be in compliance. The first transition period was from 1995 to 2000 which was the time frame for all of the member countries to get into compliance.

The second transition period ranged from 2000-2005. This period allowed specific countries to provide patent protection in areas of technology that had not been protected when the TRIPS Agreement was first implemented. An additional five-years were added to this transition period for patents regarding pharmaceuticals and agro-chemicals.

The final transition period gave additional time to countries that were considered developing to implement the policies under the TRIPS Agreement. This was to help these countries get past any financial, economic, or administrative issues that can occur when a country is still in its development stages.  This extension occurred in 2006.

A period of further extension was given to developing countries to allow them to withhold compliance until 2016 with regards to pharmaceutical products and exclusivity in marketing. This provision allows for lesser developed countries not to enforce patents and data protection on their pharmaceutical products until the January 2016 date. Simply put, this means that medicine and pharmaceuticals in developing countries will not be given patent protection until the policy changes begin implementation in 2016. This is to create as much competition as possible and help to increase the economy of developing countries.

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