Secret TPP intellectual property agreement misses deadline

The U.S. claimed "substantial progress" amid reports of disputes among countries

Negotiators on a secret trade treaty, which includes controversial intellectual property proposals, could not meet their year-end deadline for an agreement this week at Singapore.

The 12 countries will now meet next month, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, being negotiated by 12 countries, apparently has controversial proposals that would increase the term of patents and copyright, reduce requirements for patentability and increase damages for infringements of patents and copyrights.

Whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released last month a draft of the intellectual property rights chapter of the TPP. The talks have been conducted in secrecy by the governments and may be made public only after the agreement is signed, according to reports.

Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam participated in the four-day ministerial meeting in Singapore where the countries made "substantial progress" toward completing the agreement, according to the USTR statement.

However, the discussions are likely to have got bogged down in controversy as a number of countries, including New Zealand, Chile, and Canada, oppose many of the proposals, including those relating to intellectual property, according to documents released Monday by WikiLeaks.

The countries were unlikely to reach an agreement in Singapore, according to comments by an unnamed country after talks last month in Salt Lake City, Utah, released by WikiLeaks.

"This involves being prepared for a partial closure scenario or even a failure in December....," according to the commentary by the country after the Salt Lake City talks, released Monday by WikiLeaks.

"The US is exerting great pressure to close as many issues as possible this week," it added. "This pressure will increase with every passing day......"

South Korea has recently expressed interest in joining the 12 countries negotiating the TPP.

The proposals of the TPP have been criticized by law makers and civil rights groups in the U.S. and other countries. 29 organizations and more than 70 individuals wrote a letter to TPP negotiators opposing proposed copyright protection of 70 years after the death of an author in the agreement, according to a copy of the letter released by one of the signatories Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a group which is concerned about the contents of the leaked treaty draft.

The leaked TPP text will apparently export new copyright terms to signatory countries, rather than allowing the copyright term to be determined by each country, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California said last week. Lofgren was also concerned about provisions on technical protection measures, such as digital rights management, to prevent copying or modifying copyrighted work.

Critics of the intellectual property proposals claim some of the provisions in TPP are similar to those found in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). Both bills did not pass in the U.S. after strong protests including from the tech industry.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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