Issue 3, 2014. June-July


BUILDING BETTER COPYRIGHT: AN INTERVIEW WITH KATERINA V. OSSENOVA spoke with Katerina V. Ossenova, the attorney-advisor international program manager for the Eastern Europe/Eurasia Commercial Law Development Program at the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Commerce, about the U.S. government's efforts to improve copyright law in Georgia and why stronger copyright protection could help the economy.

What was the state of intellectual property rights when you started your project with Sakpatenti [The National Intellectual Property Center of Georgia]? What were the major challenges and what were your primary goals?

The U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) started working with Sakpatenti in 2010. Our initial program with Sakpatenti was focused on the development of electronic filing but in the years since, our partnership has grown to include numerous programs each year on a variety of intellectual property protection and enforcement matters. Five years ago, the fundamental challenge was one of implementation and enforcement - IP legislation in Georgia was for the most part in compliance with international norms and Georgia was a party to all of the major IP-related treaties and organizations. The greatest need was how these laws were being implemented and creating a culture that understandsthe importance of IP protection and its relationship to stimulating economic growth. Our goal at first was capacity- building programs for Sakpatenti in an effort to ensure it became an effective and transparent institution, able to be the champion for IP protection in Georgia. Since then, our goal has been to assist Sakpatenti to administer its programs encouraging and facilitating the protection and utilization of IP in Georgia.

What was accomplished during the program? How has the situation at Sakpatenti changed due to your project?

Since our work began in 2010, our technical assistance program has helped improve the intellectual property regime in Georgia. Our programs focused on public awareness and IP protection targeting media, journalists, musicians, authors, and other creative artists; enforcement programs for prosecutors, judges, investigative police, and customs officials; and innovation and commercialization programs for academia, scientists, and government officials. We helped raise the understanding not only of Georgia's IP rights and obligations but also the role IP plays in stimulating economic growth and increasing foreign direct investment. Our programs were tailored to IP protection and enforcement issues problematic to Georgia and offered solutions and expertise based on international and U.S. best practices.

Sakpatenti continues to be one of CLDP's most committed and responsive partners both inside and outside of Georgia. While IP challenges remain and there is a need for continued and progressive reform, Sakpatenti is a critical catalyst for change and is willing to work with international organizations and donors to continue on the path of reform.

One of the biggest issues facing Georgia appears to be a lack of consumer awareness of/interest in intellectual property rights - you can buy the real thing but why would you when a bootlegged version is cheaper? How can that mentality be changed? What steps need to be taken? How far has Georgia come in addressing that issue?

Building a culture of awareness and understanding about the importance of intellectual property and its impact on the economy takes a long time. The issue is difficult to understand when presented in the context of counterfeit goods like fake purses or pirated music and movies. However, counterfeit goods also include medicines, toothpaste, and automobile brakes, or unlicensed software that lacks proper protection and exposes one's computer to hacking and cybercrime. The conversation needs to be presented to include not just "luxury" goods but also goods that can have a fundamental impact on people's health and well-being. The other side of the argument is increased enforcement - increased prosecution of intellectual property infringement cases in order to create a deterrent for people considering buying counterfeit products. The consumer awareness aspect of intellectual property rights in Georgia, like in many countries in the region, is still one of the greatest challenges today. The ease, cost, and accessibility of purchasing counterfeit and pirated goods, coupled with the lack of enforcement or consequences, makes this one of the hardest impediments to overcome. One of the best ways is for the government of Georgia to serve as a role model for its citizens - by ensuring for example that all government computers are utilizing licensed software.

Another important aspect is the role of collective copyright management in protecting Georgia's rich culture. Adequate enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights are what drives entrepreneurs, authors, and inventors. Without adequate protection of IPR [intellectual property rights], new advances in technology, innovation, and creative works would be discouraged.

How important is the issue of intellectual property rights for Georgia's future trade relations with the U.S. and the EU?

Intellectual property rights are a key element in all trade relations between Georgia and its international trading partners. IPR was a key element of the recent Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the EU and are discussed in every policy-level trade negotiation with the U.S. U.S. companies considering investment and working in Georgia will want to ensure that IPR are adequately protected and enforced. IPR will continue to impact Georgia's global competitiveness and its investment potential. IPR often take a back seat when countries are dealing with unemployment, and political and fiscal instability. However, IPR must be part of any trade and investment strategy and is a precursor to strong foreign direct investment.