The development of international trade can be adversely affected, if the standards adopted by countries to protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) vary widely from one country to another.
Furthermore, the ineffective enforcement of such rights can encourage trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, thereby damaging the legitimate commercial interests of manufacturers who hold or have acquired these Rights.
The TRIPS Agreement, negotiated in the Uruguay Round, therefore lays down the minimum standards for the protection of OPRs as well as procedures and remedies for their enforcement.
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It establishes a mechanism for consolation and surveillance at the international level to ensure compliance with these standards by member countries at the national level.
The obligations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) came into effect for developed countries on 1 January, 1996.
The Agreement provides a transitional period of five years (up to 1 January, 2000) for developing countries to bring their IPR legislation in conformity with the provisions of the Agreement. The transitional period for the least developed countries is 11 years (up to 1 January, 2006).
Developing countries which do not at present provide product patent protection in an area of technology have up to 10 years to introduce such protection.
However, in the case of pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products, they must accept the filing of patent applications from the beginning of the transitional period, though these applications need not be granted until the end of this period.
If authorisation for the marketing of the relevant pharmaceutical or agricultural chemical is obtained during the transition period, the developing country concerned must, subject to certain conditions, provide an exclusive marketing right for the product for five years, or until a product patent is granted, whichever is shorter.
During any transitional period, a standstill clause applies which forbids members to reduce the levels of protection for Intellectual Property such as exist in their territory. Subject to certain exceptions, the general rule is the obligations in the Agreement apply to existing as well as to new Intellectual Property Rights.
The objects of Intellectual Properties are the creations of the human mind, the human intellect. Intellectual Properties include copyright, patents industrial designs and trademarks. Copyright relates to the rights of creators of literary, scientific, and artistic works.
Patents give exclusive rights to inventors. However, inventions can be patented only if they are new, non- obvious and are capable of industrial applications. Industrial designs are new or original aesthetic creations determining the appearance of industrial products.
These three rights are available for a limited duration. A trademark distinguishes a product or a service from those of others; they also assist consumers in making informed choices on the basis of the information provided by manufacturers about the quality of the product.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) are, for many companies, as much a commercial commodity as a manufactured product is for the innovator, and his invention is as important as the automobiles are for a car manufacturer. If everybody can freely use the invention, the innovator would be ‘out of business’ in a short time.