Global Public-Private Partnerships Against IP Crimes: How Interpol Avoided The Failures Of WCO And WHO

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By Christopher J. Paun

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are often used as a way of increasing public policy options by tapping into private sector resources. This occurs also in the field of intellectual property. There are several examples of Global PPPs against IP crimes – some more successful than others. Some prominent failures received a lot of attention when PPP activities were stopped following controversy about global IP policy.

One example is the SECURE partnership of the Brussels-based World Customs Organization (WCO). After the idea of an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was presented at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Group of Eight (G8), the WCO tried to position itself as the organisation that could administer ACTA or at least parts of it. For that purpose, the WCO drafted Standards Employed by Customs for Uniform Rights Enforcement (SECURE) together with the private sector in the SECURE Group. But this PPP was eventually stopped after having been accused of undue private sector influence and of going too far beyond the existing TRIPS standards [referring to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights].

Another example of a PPP failure is the International Medical Products Anti‑Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) of the World Health Organization (WHO). It came to a halt after it was accused by the Brazilian ambassador at the World Health Assembly of “waging a war against generic medicines”. But IMPACT was not a complete failure. The enforcement working group within IMPACT continued its work under the management of Interpol. In 2012, its activities involved the participation of 100 countries and led to the seizure of about 3.75 million pills, the shutting down of about 18,000 illegal online pharmacy websites, and to investigations against at least 80 individuals. Interpol is currently expanding its activities against counterfeit medicines even further. To do so, Interpol receives 4.5 million EUR based on a PPP with 29 pharmaceutical companies.

Interpol is involved in several PPPs against IP crimes, not only against counterfeit medicines. As a result of these partnerships, law enforcement officers around the world are trained by security professionals from the private sector, IP criminals are arrested, and tons of counterfeit products are seized. Interpol has focused on activities that support the enforcement of existing rights and stayed away from drafting any new legislative proposals or setting new standards. It has thus avoided the kind of political conflict that stopped WCO SECURE and WHO IMPACT. Interpol presents its work as purely technical and non-political, but its activities have had an effect on IP protection through the allocation of resources to IP crime fighting. Conflicts about the allocation of resources are avoided as those resources are contributed on a voluntary basis from public and private actors. Thus, the PPPs make policies feasible that would otherwise be too costly.

A comparison of global PPPs against IP crimes that have succeeded and failed suggests that PPPs are especially good at mobilizing private sector resources for the support of existing public policies. This is especially useful if public actors made a decision for a policy without having allocated adequate resources for its execution. Financial resources as well as information from the private sector may support the execution of the public policies. Giving advice within a PPP that suggests a public policy change has also not been a problem. However, it has been problematic if such advice is not only given, but if the PPP acts as a decision-making body and adopts this advice through legislative proposals or recommended standards. This has resulted in significant opposition against PPP activities at the World Customs Organization and at the World Health Organization. Apparently, PPPs are not good for making decisions about public policies prior to those made by the appropriate public decision-making bodies, even if those decisions are non-binding.

This is one of several results of my recently published doctoral thesis about transnational PPPs against IP crimes. The study provides a comprehensive survey of all PPP activities against IP crimes of Interpol, the WCO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the WHO. Examples of PPPs covered by the study are the Interpol IP Crime Action Group, Operation Jupiter, the Database on International Intellectual Property, the WCO IPR Strategic Group, the WCO Interface Public-Members, the WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement, and the Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy. The entire study is available for free via download from the State and University Library Bremen, Germany: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:gbv:46-00103026-15


Dr. Christopher Paun was PhD fellow and university lecturer at the University of Bremen, Germany. In this capacity he conducted research on global public-private partnerships against intellectual property crimes and was a member of the German delegation to the Advisory Committee on Enforcement (ACE) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Since 2011 Christopher Paun has worked in the German parliament as senior advisor on international affairs for Member of Parliament Dr. Rainer Stinner, the foreign affairs spokesperson of the FDP parliamentary group.

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  1. […] The UNODC effort might be seen by some observers as another “forum-shopping” effort by industry seeking in part to protect markets. In addition to WHO and the Council of Europe, the Brussels-based World Customs Organization had an ill-fated foray into the issue several years ago which was defeated by several developing countries (IPW, Enforcement, 9 July 2009, and IPW, Inside Views, 24 April 2013). […]

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