Editorial: Taiwan Gets Serious About Intellectual Property Rights

Putting your money where your mouth is. That's what President Chen Shui-bian did last year when he promised to crack down on "black gold" politics, move ahead on financial reform, and make elections cleaner - and he has been delivering. While none of these issues has been completely resolved, President Chen has pushed them forward, and is continuing to do so. That same resolve appears to underlie the government's new directive to make 2002 the year for intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement.

Chen's team says it is serious about strengthening IPR protections and, frankly, the prospects seem good. It hardly needs to be said that Taiwan is notorious for counterfeiting. Last year's Special 301, the annual United States Trade Representative report that targets violators of U.S. intellectual property rights, went so far as to call the island "a haven for pirates." In fact, since 1989, Taiwan has been a regular on the list, even finding itself in the worst category - "priority foreign country" - for six days in 1992. Despite this record, solid progress on IPR enforcement has been made since those lowly days, even as Taiwan's counterfeiters have grown more sophisticated and moved up the manufacturing chain into value-added piracy. But glaring problems still exist when it comes to protecting IPR. For example, trade dress, an area of the law that covers the copying of a well-recognized product's packaging, remains a continuing problem. Another example is Taiwan's power-of-attorney requirements, which often force foreign companies to spend months getting documents in order. These are long-standing sources of frustration for companies trying to stop counterfeiters. Despite these and other problems, however, the government now seems to realize that making Taiwan's reputation as a counterfeiting "haven" a thing of the past is crucial to ensuring the nation's continued economic success. Moreover, pressure for increased enforcement is coming from all sides, with foreign and local businesses finding they have the same agenda when it comes to IPR infringement. With local Taiwanese companies now joining the call for an improved IPR environment, the chances for change are even better. These companies have an increasing amount of IP of their own to protect, whether it be in the form of scientific breakthroughs in the burgeoning biotech field or the songs of megastars like A-Mei, who hold broad appeal throughout Asia. But it's not only Taiwan's government that needs to act against IPR violators. Foreign companies, no less than Taiwan government offices, also need to recognize the importance of cleaning up their own backyards. Business software is a good example.

Since software programs often come bundled together, many international companies and offices may well have pirated programs on their computers, something that might surprise high-level executives. Managers and supervisors, who usually delegate the buying and installing of software to others, would do well to take a look at exactly what programs are on their companies' computers. Not only that, but they may need to create a more sophisticated system for continued vigilance against the introduction of pirated programs into their offices. This will do more than avoid an embarrassing government raid. It is a message to the government that business, too, is ready to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to IPR enforcement.

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