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Transatlantic shenanigans

By Andrew Whitehead on Apr 17, 13 01:43 PM in Law

In the late 1950s - after her career as a research chemist, and before being elected to Parliament - Baroness Thatcher was a barrister in private practice specializing in tax and patents.

No doubt she would therefore have had something to say about the place for intellectual property rights (IPR) in the impending EU-US trade talks.

The trade talks were officially launched in February. According to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, "a future deal between the world's two most important economic powers will be a game-changer, giving a strong boost to our economies on both sides of the Atlantic."

However, civil rights groups on both sides of the Atlantic are anxious that any trade deal excludes any provisions related to patents, copyright, trademarks or other forms of IPR. The concern is the balance of power between the global corporates and the individual, not only in areas such as medicine and clean tech but also in the realms of open internet access and a world where it is extremely easy to inadvertently infringe copyright.

This issue has been rumbling on for some time; it was only last summer that the European Parliament refused to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which aimed to clamp down on counterfeiting and copyright infringement.

On the other hand, the US has been keen to ensure sufficient global protection for US intellectual property, and the suspicions are that it will try and use the trade talks to revive aspects of the ACTA treaty.

But if there are concerns on this side of the Atlantic of hidden agendas, the US negotiators will be equally wary of EU machinations in the related area of data protection.

The European Commission has formed the view that the EU's current data protection rules no longer meet the needs of a digital age, and has proposed a major overhaul.

Part of the reform package is a draft EU Regulation, which will apply in both domestic and cross border transfers of data, and will catch US companies dealing in Europe and holding the personal data of EU citizens. The draft Regulation is wide in scope, giving individuals easier access to their own data, the ability to transfer it from one service provider to another, and the right "to be forgotten". These enhanced rights are complemented by much greater enforcement powers.

US tech companies, including the likes of Google and Facebook, have been lobbying fiercely. A key concern is that this package of measures will introduce more red tape and cost; that it fails to maintain the balance between protecting civil liberties on the one hand, and allowing economic growth and innovation on the other, by being too prescriptive as to how businesses should comply to ensure rights of individuals are protected.

These trade talks are clearly going to be tricky, and Angela Merkel has perhaps been persuaded that the Brits and their 'special relationship' might turn out to be useful members of the 'team Europe' negotiation team (not least because the UK has raised its own objections to the draft Data Protection Regulation some of which are shared by Germany).

No surprise, therefore, to see Mr and Mrs Cameron and the kids get the special Schloss treatment last week.


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