San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Academy helps protect intellectual property

From the print edition

Costa Rica has a newly minted body for promoting and developing the protection of intellectual property rights. Somebody should have told the band that played to celebrate the occasion.

During a musical interlude at the inauguration of the Costa Rican Academy of Intellectual Property, on April 19, the band Soul Beat, a San José-based trio, played Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” complete with a blistering saxophone solo by Sebastián Castro. Castro admitted the band had not paid royalties to perform the song.

The academy is an initiative of the Justice Ministry supported by the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM). The academy unveiled a new National Strategy on Intellectual Property April 19 in the newly constructed Intellectual Property building at the National Registry in San José.

Geoffrey Onyeama, assistant director of the World Intellectual Property Organization, picked up on the gaffe, mentioning it during his speech. Afterward, Onyeama said that while the band should pay royalties to perform the song, the situation only highlights the need for a national strategy on intellectual property.

“All that should fit into the national strategy,” Onyeama said. “The whole problem of royalties is important, but they are reciprocal. Costa Rican music is being played anywhere else in the world, so putting into place the appropriate structures to collect these royalties and pay them to the people who should have them is necessary, and the reciprocal benefits will work for Costa Rican musicians, too.”

Onyeama praised the work that went in to developing the strategy presented by the academy.

“Intellectual property impacts on so many different sectors and ministries,” Onyeama said. “So it is important for a country to first do a stock-taking of intellectual property, where it is being used, why it is not being used, the policy dimensions, and it is important to create a roadmap where all the different ministries work together.”

In Costa Rica, the Justice Ministry is the coordinating body tasked with implementing the strategy and making sure policies, according to Onyeama, “have a coherence … in the context of national development goals.”

According to an AMCHAM press release, the academy will provide training to public, private and academic sectors on issues related to the protection of intellectual property rights.

The initiative is receiving substantial support from agro-chemical industry, though the National Intellectual Property Strategy aims to include protections for four key sectors: technology, agro-industrial, cultural (music and creative endeavors) and biotechnology.

Javier Fernández, legal director of CropLife Latin America – a nonprofit trade organization that represents Bayer CropScience, FMC, Syngenta, Basf, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Arysta LifeScience – said a strengthening of intellectual property rights would drive innovation in the country.

“For a product to reach the market, [a company] must complete approximately 120 studies, which can take around 10 years and invest some $256 million,” Fernández said.

A robust system for protecting the fruits of that research and investment is needed to continue to attract companies to the country to develop new products, Fernández said. 

“We think we have a lot of resources here that we don’t want to sell as raw materials,” Fernández said. “We don’t want things to be made in Costa Rica, we want things to be created in Costa Rica.”

Onyeama cautioned that in the development of a national strategy for intellectual property rights, it is important to include all voices from the large-scale agro-industrial interests represented by CropLife Latin America, down to the small-scale or subsistence farmers in Costa Rica.

“It really is a framework to address all the needs of all the sectors,” Onyeama said. “Otherwise the kinds of problems you identify with small-scale farmers, for example, might be exploited and disadvantaged, and their voices will never be heard.”

Vice President Alfio Piva spoke at the event, focusing on the role of intellectual property rights as a tool for economic development.

“I am sure that in the context of the current knowledge economy, the initiatives we are introducing today will promote greater trust between our researchers, increasing investment flows in areas related to technology and innovation,” Piva said.

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