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Stealing ideas

I have a cousin who lives in the United States and once came for a visit here. After a few days of taking her around, mainly to various tiangge (street markets) and malls, we were all ready to give up. This was because her most common reaction to the goods she saw, especially when she learned their prices, was to exclaim: “How cheap!”

How, we asked her, could she bargain for lower prices when she wore her consumer heart on her sleeve? No wonder the sales people all chose to ignore our earnest efforts to do the bargaining for her.

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Of course, the reason all those goods were so “cheap” was: They were mostly knock-offs, some obvious, others very skillfully made copies of their “genuine” counterparts—designer bags, shoes, clothes, pirated DVD copies of Hollywood and local movies, and even jewelry.

Indeed, the pirating and fakery game in the Philippines has become so widespread that word of the wide availability of fakes here has spread to other parts of the world. Friends say that among their foreign visitors, the first place they clamor to visit is Greenhills, especially its tiangge section which has gained a reputation (deserved or not) for selling cheap knock-offs.

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Our reputation as a destination for and distributor of fake goods—many of them smuggled from China, Thailand, Malaysia, even Korea—is something Ric Blancaflor, director general of the Intellectual Property Office, is working hard to demolish.

He tells of taking a member of the founding family of Lacoste, a well-known international brand of fashion and sporty items, around the stalls in Greenhills, and hearing the scion exclaim: “At last, I can see that copies of our bags and shirts are no longer being sold out in the open!”

Of course, Blancaflor says as an aside, consumers can still avail themselves of “Lacoste” copies by pointing out their preferred wares in brochures.

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BUT Blancaflor is working hard to eradicate even such discreet marketing.

The IP office, he says, basically oversees three kinds of protection granted to creators and holders of “intellectual property.” These are:  patents, trademarks, and copyrights. And to help his office enforce these protections and go after violators, laws have been passed strengthening and broadening the coverage of protections over IP-related products and meting penalties on violators.

“We are now a knowledge-based economy,” says Anthony Bengzon, a lawyer who specializes in IP cases, and helps clients obtain ownership (and income) of and protection from fraudulent use of their own inventions, innovations, ideas and creative output.

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“Anything that results from your own intellectual efforts—designs, writings, technological advances—can be covered by a patent or copyright,” says Bengzon. But to obtain such coverage, adds Blancaflor, one needs to first register the product or idea with the IPOPHL, for the affordable fee of P600. And to extend coverage to more Filipino inventors and creatives, IPOPHL has established offices in different parts of the country.

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“THE Philippines is a gold mine of copyrights,” declares Blancaflor, noting how copyright or patent holders can continue earning from their products as long as these are in use anywhere in the world.

Indeed, he asserts, the “copyright industry”—representing earnings from the use of copyrighted products by Filipinos, is responsible for 4.8 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product. And this may even go higher if more people were aware of the need to register the fruits of their intellectual work and were more vigilant in monitoring the use of IP.

Most of the IP earnings, says Blancaflor, are made from “media products,” including movies, telenovelas, songs, books, even journalistic output. The last covers all media, including the Internet, so blogs, photos, posts and the like are likewise protected by IP laws.

Copyrights, however, do not last forever, with the prohibition on unauthorized use lasting for 50 years. A possible exception, says Blancaflor, is the use of the “Walt Disney” trademark and all the products (including characters) under it, whose copyright was recently extended for another 50 years.

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WHILE violations of IP rights can result in financial losses in terms of unrealized income, in the case of fake or counterfeit drugs the damage can be counted in terms of human life and harm to health.

“What do you think are the biggest-selling counterfeit drugs in the market?” Blancaflor asks his audience at the Bulong Pulungan in Sofitel. Most of the women exclaim “Viagra!” But the “little blue pill” has been replaced, says Blancaflor, by skin whiteners and slimming pills, many of which have been found to be laced with harmful ingredients. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning against the sale and use of such unregistered, untested products, which could, aside from failing to live up to their promises, actually cause ill-effects.

Erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra and Cialis likewise have been counterfeited, and these are even more dangerous as they could affect one’s heart and blood circulation.

Fake medicines could have adverse health implications in that patients wait in vain for the promised relief, only to waste away or, worse, die from their ailment because they were not even being cured in the first place.

Protection of intellectual property has implications far beyond just profits and creative ownership. Patent and copyright violations are indeed a form of theft, and can even lead to illness, debilitation and death. In which case, a far more serious crime is involved.

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TAGS: Consumer, Copyrights, Hollywood, Intellectual Property Office, jewelry, Street Markets, Tiangge
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