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Seminar on IPR Protection for the WCO Asia Pacific Region

17 July 2001


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the WCO Regional Seminar on Intellectual Property Rights. First of all, I wish to thank the World Customs Organization for choosing Hong Kong again to organize this event for the Asia and Pacific Region. In the next few days, we will share with you our experience in developing effective legal tools, in the use of intelligence and risk assessment techniques and in the formulation of appropriate anti-piracy strategies.

We are particularly grateful to have the opportunity to stage the achievements we have made since the last seminar. Our collective memory can still recall with a great deal of agony and embarrassment the rampant state of piracy facing Hong Kong when we held the first WCO Seminar in 1996. The situation at that time seemed rather out of control. We saw the extent of piracy outstripping the capability of our enforcement units, lending a sense of great frustration.

The situation has been drastically altered in the last few years. I am pleased to tell you that the piracy situation in Hong Kong is now fully under control. The sales figures of the music, film and software industries are the best indicators attesting to the current state of affairs. Our remarkable rebound has attracted many believers to endorse our system of enforcement and our steady success has won the high regards of many enforcement colleagues around the world.

I would like to set out for you today the two essential elements that have helped make Hong Kong the centre of excellence in intellectual property rights protection.

Strategy

The key element of our success is an effective enforcement strategy that is backed not just by adequate resources but also by the highest authority in Hong Kong. Our enforcement strategy in combating IPR offences is straightforward. We take a two-pronged approach, directing vigorous, sustained enforcement action at both the supply side as well as the retail end of the piracy business. My colleagues from the Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau will provide you with greater details on our approach in the next few days.

To make our strategy a success, we have allocated a good portion of our precious, limited resources to enforce the protection of intellectual property rights. We have an establishment of 285 officers in the Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau. They are engaged in the overall coordination of enforcement against piracy activities in Hong Kong. We have a Special Task Force established in June 1999 with 185 officers. Their role is to enhance even further our enforcement action in cracking down on piracy activities at the retail level. We have also selected seven officers from the core of our most computer literate personnel to form the Anti-Internet Piracy Team, which is supported by a Computer Forensic Laboratory, to tackle copyright piracy in cyber space. Putting them together, we probably have the largest enforcement team in the world dedicated solely to the fight against piracy.

We see our allocation in manpower and equipment as long term investments in the future of Hong Kong. We wish to build in Hong Kong a platform of innovation where original ideas can become commercial realities, where creativity will be rewarded with recognition and success and where copyrights will be properly protected. We see the eradication of the piracy trade as a necessary first step. This is a government wide mission which has been endorsed at the highest level and accepted throughout the administration. Our readiness to accord high priority to tackling this issue reflects the importance we attach to it. Our willingness to provide this level of dedicated resources is a clear indication of our long term commitment to eradicate piracy in Hong Kong.

We are fortunate to have the benefit of a sound and open legal system. Over the years, Hong Kong has been continuously engaged in a painstaking process of improving our arsenal of legislations on the protection of intellectual property rights. We have now a first class comprehensive legal framework for the protection of IPR that is the envy of developed economies. There is still more to do, and we are continuing with our effort, but we are pleased to be able to provide our officers with the necessary tools to do their job.

Our courts are also taking the issue very seriously, handing out sentences that would serve as a ready deterrent anywhere in the world. The average sentence for an IPR offence is nine months, with the heaviest sentence so far recorded at 48 months in jail and $1.04 million in fine. This level of punishment should make pirates think twice before they do something stupid in Hong Kong.

Partnership

The other essential element is our effective partnership with the industry.

It is clear to us that our enforcement success relies on the full support of the industry. Intellectual property is primarily a private economic right, and it is in the best interest of the rights owners to defend it themselves. While we are the lead agency in enforcement, rights owners must share the responsibility in supporting Customs in protecting their own rights.

We demand a full range of support from the rights owners in Hong Kong and they deliver their share of the bargain. On a day to day basis, they help us identify the authenticity of the pirated goods, provide expert witnesses to testify in criminal proceedings and furnish us with the needed documentations.

To facilitate participation by the industry side, we have made our enforcement system and procedures transparent. This enables the rights owners to know exactly how we work. This transparent system actually helps build up mutual trust between the government and the industry allowing both sides to understand how best we can achieve our common goal.

A strategic partnership between the public and the private sector is central to successful protection of intellectual property rights. The industry and the enforcement agency must join hands if we want to win the war against pirates.

Conclusion

Today we have brought together professional Customs officers in the region who serve in the field of IPR enforcement and representatives of the industry in the largest seminar of its kind ever organized in our region. This is an excellent opportunity for all of us here to understand our common problems, to share our experiences, and to work out our own solutions. I am confident that this seminar will not only update enforcement officers on their practical knowledge, but also enhance cooperation between the industry and Customs authorities. Only through our concerted effort will we be able to truly blind the pirate in the remaining eye.

Thank you.

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