The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released its annual “Special 301” report on Thursday.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative added Saudi Arabia to its Priority Watch List, a designation the agency makes for countries deemed by the U.S. as posing the greatest intellectual property rights (IPR)-related dangers to U.S. companies engaging in foreign commerce, according to USTR’s 2019 “Special 301” report released Thursday.
“USTR identifies Saudi Arabia on the Priority Watch List for failing to address long-standing IP concerns and further deteriorating IP protection and enforcement within its borders,” the report says. “Specifically, concerns remain regarding the lack of IP protection for innovative pharmaceutical products, including the lack of adequate and effective protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval.”
Saudi Arabia also hasn’t acted against “rampant” satellite and online piracy made available by illicit pirate service BeoutQ, USTR said.
USTR dropped Canada and Colombia from the Priority Watch List, after giving the designation to the countries in 2018. Those countries are now on the Watch List, a designation for countries posing a less severe threat to U.S. IP owners.
USTR noted that in the past year the U.S. secured strong IP provisions with Canada (and with Mexico) in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“The most significant step forward taken by Canada is its agreement to important intellectual property (IP) provisions in the [USMCA],” the Special 301 report says. “Once implemented, these commitments will substantially improve the IP environment in Canada, including with respect to areas where there have been long-standing concerns, including enforcement against counterfeits, inspection of goods in transit, transparency with respect to new geographical indications (GIs), national treatment and copyright term.”
USTR said it also welcomes Canada’s “commitment to high IP standards” through the seizure of suspected counterfeits from the Pacific Mall in Ontario, which was listed in USTR’s 2017 Notorious Markets List, an annually complied list highlighting online and physical markets around the world reported as involved in substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting.
Rights holders also report that Canadian courts have established meaningful penalties against circumvention devices and services, USTR said.
Colombia’s “meaningful progress,” particularly enactment in July of copyright reform legislation to meet U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement obligations, and Colombia’s steps to clarify and resolve concerns about certain parts of its National Development Plan, warrant the down-listing from the Priority Watch List to the Watch List, USTR said.
Colombia issued a regulation in March 2018 to clarify that it would not condition regulatory approvals for medicines on factors other than the safety and efficacy of the underlying compound, and recently clarified that it would provide the industry with fair due process to apply for medical-related patents, USTR noted.
USTR continued Priority Watch List designations for Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Ukraine and Venezuela.
USTR added Paraguay to its Watch List after four years off the list, because Paraguay has failed to meet key commitments pursuant to a 2015 memorandum of understanding (MOU) on IP rights with the U.S., including adopting and enforcing penalties such as imprisonment and monetary fines sufficient to deter infringement, USTR said.
The country also remains a major transshipment point for counterfeit and pirated goods, USTR said.
With the MOU set to expire in 2020, the U.S. urges Paraguay to progress on its IP protection and enforcement commitments, and the U.S. stands ready to assist Paraguay through enhanced engagement or technical assistance, USTR said.
USTR deleted Tajikistan from the Watch List because of “concrete steps” the country took to improve its IP regime, including mandating ex officio authority for customs officials and issuing a presidential-level decree to facilitate use of licensed software in government agencies, the Special 301 report says.
USTR continued Watch List designations for Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.