In the IPR fight, some progress, some slippage, and some uncertainty.
2002 -- which the Taiwan authorities proclaimed would the "Action Year Against Intellectual Property Piracy" -- has come and gone with little in the way of IPR achievements to show for it. But the first few months of 2003 have indicated that this year may be a different story.
Most significantly, the Cabinet last month sent a bill to the Legislative Yuan that would expand police powers to investigate IPR crimes and stiffen penalties for offenders. Under the proposed new legislation, in the form of amendments to the Copyright Law, IPR violations would become a public crime. That would permit the police and prosecutors to take the initiative in investigating offenses without having to wait for a victim to file a complaint. Further, the maximum fines to be imposed would be raised from the current NT$1 million (about US$28,800) to NT$5 million (US$144,000) in civil cases and from NT$450,000 (about US$13,000) to NT$8 million (US$230,000) in criminal cases. The reward for those who turn in violators would be increased from NT$1 million to NT$10 million (US$288,000).
These steps have longed been urged by AmCham and others in the international business community. But the success of the new legislation will depend on how aggressively the amended laws are enforced, long a major sticking point in the effort to lower piracy rates.
Hoping to boost the enforcement capability, the government in January expanded the size of the dedicated anti-piracy police task force to 220 officers, up from around 100. But the change was not unalloyed good news, as the original 100 officers were all transferred to other assignments. Now the whole 220-officer task force will be "green" in terms of handling the complexities of IPR cases.
Though inexperienced, however, these new recruits should be well motivated. From the beginning of March, the Ministry of Interior increased the reward points officers can earn for busting pirates to more than ten times their previous level. (The rationale for the original low scale was that IPR cases are less serious than other crimes.)
Another possible advance was a Judicial Yuan notice to judges, advising them to treat IPR cases brought by foreign companies in the same manner as those involving local firms. Previously some judges had required a power-of-attorney signed by a senior executive in the foreign company's home office and authenticated by the Taiwan representative office in that country. The resulting delay in such cases, sometimes six months or more, made it impossible for the foreign firm to act swiftly and effectively against IPR violators.
But the new procedure has so far gone untested, as no law firm has been willing to take the risk of bringing a case without the notarization, says Jeffrey Harris, co-chair of AmCham's Intellectual Property and Licensing Committee. "They don't want the case to get dropped by some judge who may not agree [with the instruction] or who may not have read the circular."
Score that one as a "maybe."