BREXIT. Multinational intellectual property agreements painfully difficult to negotiate and finalize. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement languishing, with only one signatory. Suspension of most of the IP provisions in the revamped Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. NAFTA in the crosshairs. What’s left for international IP relations in the current environment?

“ASEAN Interoperability,” the subject of our new book, International Intellectual Property and the ASEAN Way: Pathways To Interoperability, offers an intriguing answer.

The ASEAN way frames relations between a diverse group of nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It involves cooperation, non-interference and mutual respect for domestic sovereignty. At the same time, the ASEAN way reflects a desire to move forward together in a cooperative manner, while giving due recognition to the different national priorities and different levels of development. The interoperability agenda of cooperation offers a pragmatic solution to the regional and global integration of IP laws.

Enhancing IP relations is a key platform for ASEAN. Within the ASEAN Way, this does not involve harmonization of IP laws; nor does it require the kind of one-size-fits all approach that provokes so much friction in the wider international context.  ASEAN interoperability aims to enhance operational outcomes of IP in the administrative, legislative, judicial and enforcement spheres while maintaining the respect for distinct national priorities that characterizes the ASEAN Way. “IP Interoperability” in ASEAN means cooperation and coordination without harmonization or central control.

Our book includes new ASEAN-focused commentary by leading academics and government and private sector experts with first-hand experience of the ASEAN IP law, policy development, and legal practice. It also includes a comparative section, providing readers an opportunity to compare the ASEAN models with other regional IP systems in Europe and Latin America. There is also a section on the possibilities for private international law to enhance the interoperability agenda. Private international law is premised on mutual respect for the differences that exist between different nations’ legal systems. The final chapter contains an “IP Matrix,” prepared by the ASEAN Intellectual Property Organization which summarizes key aspects of individual ASEAN nations’ IP laws.

The development of IP along internationally accepted principles has emerged as a policy priority to enhance competitiveness of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and to improve IP owners’ access to overseas markets.

The acceleration of the AEC integration culminated in a new ASEAN Intellectual Property Action Plan (2011-2015) that permitted greater flexibility in the process of IP integration. That was quickly followed by the introduction of the ASEAN IP Rights Action Plan (2016-2025) which establish new strategies for technology transfers and expansion of technological capabilities in the AEC.

The primary goal of this 10-year project is the promotion of cross-border trade and investment. Some of the key strategies to achieve this are: creating a more robust ASEAN IP system; developing regional IP platforms and infrastructures; promoting an inclusive ASEAN IP ecosystem; and stimulating asset creation and commercialization.

The action plans include the establishment of regional IP platforms and infrastructure for the exchange of data among member states to boost technical and procedural convergence of national IP laws within the AEC framework. The regional IP offices are expected to deepen sectoral engagements.

While deeper harmonization of law and practices remain highly contested in other contexts, the ASEAN interoperability model may provide useful insights for other countries that value national cooperation without jeopardizing distinct domestic IP policy agenda.

The book will be of interest to practitioners, government relations and legal scholars, and policy makers. While the ASEAN interoperability agenda offers some important insights for international IP arrangements, the substantive information and analyses in the individual chapters will also be of interest to firms and their advisors that are focused on the growing ASEAN nations’ economies.

If ASEAN were a single country, it would be the world’s fifth largest economy, and it is projected to become the world’s fourth largest regional economy by the middle of this century. For this reason alone, IP relations in ASEAN is of increasing importance for all businesses seeking to grow their markets.

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