Costa Rica builds respect for IP rights
by Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO
Since its establishment in December 2002, Costa Rica's Administrative Registration Tribunal (ART) has made great strides in boosting intellectual property (IP) awareness in the country and in instilling confidence in the national IP system. In the lead up to the its 10th anniversary celebrations, WIPO Magazine sat down with ART's President, Ms. Guadalupe Ortiz, to learn more about the Tribunal's work and its plans for the future.
From left to right: Tribunal judges Lic. Kathya Mora
Cordera, MSc, Guadalupe Ortiz Mora, MSc, Normal
Ureña Boza, Lic. IIse Diaz Diaz, Dr. Pedro Suarez
Baltodano. (Photo: ART-Costa Rica)
Costa Rica's Law No. 8039 on Procedures on Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, enacted in 2000, grew out of the country's commitment to implement the provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and its recognition of the importance of IP as a catalyst for economic growth and development. This law provides for the establishment of ART, an independent, specialized body to adjudicate appeals relating to decisions and other actions taken by the country's national IP registries.
The Tribunal, attached to the Ministry of Justice, is a lynchpin in the country's strategy to build greater understanding and respect for IP rights and the IP system as a whole. The Tribunal is the only one of its kind in Latin America that handles cases involving both intangible and tangible rights.
Building confidence in the IP system
In its 10-year existence, the Tribunal has handled some 6,500 cases, of which only around 20 have been passed to the law courts for resolution. “This reflects the high level of confidence that users have in the system. One of the strengths of our system is that we offer a streamlined and transparent service. Applicants that wish to appeal the decision of one of our national IP registries can defend their rights, and have a second opportunity to present their case,” Ms. Ortiz notes.
“We strongly embrace the principle of public service. Users have quick and easy access to the law and are guaranteed an opportunity to discuss all the issues relating to their case,” she explains. Regardless of whether or not the Tribunal's decision is favorable to users, they benefit from a well-argued legal explanation as to the rights or wrongs of their case and are satisfied that they have had a fair hearing. “Even though users have the option to use the regular court system, the tendency has been for them to come to the Tribunal. The low number of appeals that have gone to court suggests that users are satisfied with and persuaded by the Tribunal's explanation and analysis of their case,” says Ms. Ortiz.
The fully autonomous nature of the Tribunal, which has its own budget and governance system, is designed to ensure that its decisions are impartial. Five judges specializing in IP and appointed by the Ministry of Justice preside over cases. In this way, users are sure that their cases are heard by experts who are well versed in, and familiar with the complexities of IP law. The enhanced IP knowledge of this small group of specialist judges offers two main advantages. On the one hand, it means cases are handled in an accurate and timely manner. On the other hand, decisions relating to cases involving similar circumstances are more consistent, leading to more predictable outcomes and greater business confidence.
“We are convinced that legal security is the basis of a robust and effective intellectual property system. Our work is to enforce IP rights and to provide access to all aspects of IP law through a mechanism that users can have confidence in and trust,” Ms. Ortiz says. “The direct benefit to users is that they acquire a better understanding of why their applications were unsuccessful before the national IP registry and, of course, what they have to do for their applications to be successful,” she notes. “This is not only of immediate benefit to users but, in the longer term, it helps build a broader and more robust understanding of, and confidence in, the IP system among the user community – both at home and abroad.”
Striving for excellence
Since its inception, the Tribunal has sought to keep abreast of new developments in IP law and to maintain the quality of its decisions. A program of continuous IP training and regular participation by Tribunal specialists in relevant national and international forums helps ensure that officials keep pace with emerging trends and new legal developments.
These and other measures have enabled the Tribunal to successfully establish its reputation as a forum of excellence, delivering the highest quality public service and promoting broader understanding of IP within the country. In the field of trademarks, for example, the Tribunal strictly monitors the registration of well-known marks in Costa Rica. Its objectives are twofold: first, to send a clear message to the international business community that their trademark rights will be upheld and respected in Costa Rica; and second, to protect consumers and the public at large from being duped into purchasing substandard or fake goods.
Over the last decade, the Tribunal has built up a significant case law. “Our jurisprudence is already quite mature but we continue to follow the international evolution of IP law and to monitor legal opinions on emerging IP issues. IP is a fast-moving field, and we have to keep up to speed with the latest developments,” Ms. Ortiz observes. “A hallmark of the Tribunal's success over the past decade is the quality of the decisions, the introduction of international standards and a clear view about the fundamental importance of the due process of law,” she adds. An online database offers both specialists and the general public user-friendly access to the Tribunal's cumulated jurisprudence and legal resources. This invaluable legal resource not only supports ART in its work, but is also serving to improve understanding of IP across the country.
The Inter-Institutional Commission for IP
While the Tribunal is a key element in the country's strategy to promote greater respect for IP and to enforce IP rights, it does not operate in isolation. The Tribunal is part of a coordinated national IP strategy involving a broad range of institutions including, for example, customs authorities, government agencies and those from the academic and business communities, which come together in the context of the Inter-Institutional Commission for IP. The Commission's purpose is to ensure the coherent and coordinated development of the country's national IP strategy. “Through this national strategy all the actors are unified and work together very closely. We each have our own clearly defined functions, but we are all working together as a network within the framework of the national IP strategy,” Ms. Ortiz explains.
Supporting economic development
By providing greater legal security around IP, which in turn boosts business confidence, the Tribunal plays a pivotal role in creating a fertile and attractive commercial environment that encourages and promotes innovation and attracts foreign direct investment. “It is important that we understand that IP is an instrument for development,” Ms. Ortiz observes. “IP is a key aspect of the country's future development. Costa Rica is an open country where international trade is very important. A robust and effective IP system is a key factor in attracting foreign investors; it is also pivotal in fostering innovation which, now that we have a national IP strategy in place, is our next major development challenge,” Ms. Ortiz says. “Free and easy access to a modern, user-friendly and trusted IP system is a key ingredient in promoting the broad use of IP for the country's future development.”
The Tribunal's work is instrumental in enhancing the rules and working practices of the national IP registries which are obliged by law to observe its decisions. “We work very closely with the registries to change the rules for the better,” Ms. Ortiz explains. “Sometimes with the right implementation you can solve problems,” she adds.
Intellectual property promises to become increasingly central to Costa Rica's future economic development. This, in turn, will generate “a wider and more complex use of IP in the country,” Ms. Ortiz suggests. “Our future will involve an expanding caseload and increasingly complex cases,” she predicts. Underlining the importance of ensuring that the Tribunal's expertise keeps pace with the rapidly evolving technological landscape and legal best practices, Ms. Ortiz anticipates “huge challenges ahead, because the decisions the Tribunal is going to take are going to become increasingly complex.” She is, however, confident that the Tribunal will succeed in continuing to support the country's development objectives. “We are on the right track. The Tribunal is bolstering the security of IP rights, and our experience over the last 10 years suggests that the user community prefers to use the Tribunal over the courts.”
The Tribunal is set to move to a new building, currently under construction, in early 2013. “This will enable us to further enhance the services we offer our users,” Ms. Ortiz notes, referring to plans to introduce oral hearings and various online services.