KARACHI: We all require money, but some of us need it more than others. The Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) falls into the latter category. A visit to any of the IPO’s public offices, the trademark registry, copyright or patent office, is sufficient to point out that our intellectual property protection agencies are in dire need of funds. The mismanagement, despite positive efforts by the staff, is mostly due to the fact that there has been no upgrade of the existing system for many years, despite grants received. There are claims of automation of systems, but only up to the extent of reports and presentations. With this background comes a series of announcements from the IPO that it has decided to raise funds for improving its working infrastructure. The proposed plan is very simple, which involves enhancing the existing fee for all services. A cursory look at the proposed revised schedule of fees is sufficient to reveal to us the true intentions of the IPO. For example, at the copyright office, the fee for goods and services has jumped from Rs1,000 to Rs6,000. There is an acute shortage of staff at the three IPO offices. There is hardly any technical staff at the patent office — a prerequisite to understanding the scientific nature of filings. The proposed increase will not be welcomed by the business community since Pakistani businesses still do not feel safe vis-a-vis intellectual property rights (IPR). A US trade representative report in 2013 pointed out that “Pakistan has yet to improve IPR protection, despite the new IPO Act”. It spoke of “widespread counterfeiting and piracy, particularly book and optical disc piracy” and urged our IP authorities to take action. “Pakistan should also take the necessary steps to reform its copyright law to address the piracy challenges of the digital age,” the report said. In 2014, the report showed no “significant improvements in overall IPR protection” and that “Pakistan has not yet fully implemented the Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan Act of 2012”.
Alarmed at such reports, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir, along with the commerce secretary and the IPO director general, rushed to Washington, DC to clear Pakistan’s name from the US government’s priority watch list. The sum total of their efforts can be seen in the 2015 report of the US Trade Representative that mentions our country in the following words: “Pakistan remains on the Priority Watch List in 2015 as there have not been significant improvements in its overall IPR protection”. Perhaps, what the IPO does not realise is that trademarks, copyright and patent offices are not revenue-generating institutions. Their task is to provide services to Pakistani trade, industry, intelligentsia and the scientific community. By not making any improvement in its services and still demanding more in terms of fees, the IPO is doing a great disservice to the intellectual property regime of the country. It is true that the organisation needs money, but it should be earned with the intention of investing it back into the system. Foreign trips and long-distance junkets in the name of an IP awareness campaign may look good on paper, but unless an effort is made to ensure the registration process is smooth and easy, and enforcement is strict, not many will be happy with fee hikes every few years. The business community would not say no to the fee raise, simply to avoid confrontation with the might of the IPO, but then the authorities should realise that with great power, comes great responsibility. We just don’t see that being exercised.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2015.