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The annual meeting of the ABPI – the Brazilian IP Association – may just be the biggest annual IP conference that you have never heard of. That was certainly the case for me. I have been in Rio attending the 2013 event (and celebrating the association's 50th anniversary) and was blown away by the attendance: about 1,000 delegates, a good mix of industry and private practice, with around 75% of attendees local and 25% from abroad (mostly Latin American, but quite a few from the US and a handful of Europeans). Sessions were varied and extremely well populated, with no shortage of questions at the end. It was an excellent conference from start to finish.
Although Brazil is a BRICs country, when it comes to IP it generally gets a lot less coverage (though there has been some) than India and China. However, having been here for a few days I’d say seeing it in that way is a mistake. Any IP event that can attract 1,000 people is clearly rooted on something more than blind faith; and there is a lot more than that in Brazil right now. Not only are the World Cup and the Olympics – with all their attendant IP challenges – coming to the country in 2014 and 2016 respectively, but also in more general terms IP is clearly moving up the governmental and corporate agenda. It is a little known fact (at least it was to me) that Brazil is already one of the world’s leading franchise market-places, so familiarity with at least some IP issues is a pre-requisite for many of the country’s business people. But that’s not all: the creative industries are on the rise, there are increasing levels of activity in a number of technological areas, while the country is obviously hugely rich in natural resources. All this comes against the background of an economy which has grown significantly over recent years, leading to an expansion in the size of a middle class that is enjoying higher disposable income. Also not to be sniffed at are a functioning democracy and the freedom of thought, expression and access to information that come with it; not to mention an independent judiciary.
Of course, as events earlier this year demonstrated, not everything in Brazil’s garden is rosy – unemployment rates are threatening to move upwards and a lot of people feel they have missed out on the economic good times; longer term problems – corruption, endemic poverty, creaky healthcare, low education attainment levels in large parts of the country – remain and have to be tackled. But from a purely IP perspective, the conditions are in place for Brazil to take a big leap forward, particularly as under the leadership of Jorge Avila the country’s IP office is beginning to deal with the backlog issues that have so tarnished its reputation over the years.
Currently and the for the medium term, Brazil’s IP power will be focused firmly on copyrights, trademarks, brands and associated assets; but over the longer term there is little doubt that patents and know-how will become increasingly important too. As a result, we can expect to see the country play a much more prominent role in international IP politics.
With that in mind, one thing I was told to keep an eye on is an on-going dispute the Brazilians have with the Americans over cotton subsidies. At first sight, that would not see to have much to do with IP, but as we reported on the blog a few years back US rights owners were threatened with sanctions by Brazil if the Americans did not comply with a WTO ruling on support given to the domestic cotton industry. The issue seemed to die down for a while, but now I have been told it could bounce back into life as rolling budget cuts in Washington DC threaten a peace deal the two countries had agreed. Interestingly, I was told that a delegation from the Brazilian foreign ministry had recently paid a visit to Antigua, another country threatening the US with IP sanctions over a WTO dispute.
Whether or not entirely innocent American IP owners do end up getting caught up in such action remains to be seen; but the fact that the Brazilians are even considering it demonstrates they understand how important IP rights can be. One thing they may want to consider, though, is that if they can do it, others can as well. As Brazilian companies come to rely more on IP that will make them vulnerable too.
IP politics, Brands, Copyright, Patents, IP business