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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legal Changes Alone Won't Win Piracy War

Amendments to the law on trademarks passed by lawmakers last week are essential to Russia's war on piracy and its bid to join the World Trade Organization, but they won't protect intellectual property by themselves, experts said Monday.

The amendments, which draw a clear line between genuine and counterfeit goods and toughen penalties, sailed through the State Duma in the key second reading Friday.

The government is determined to join the WTO, but one of the main sticking points in negotiations is the rampant piracy in the country.

The problem is staggering: Some 64 percent of CDs and cassettes, 80 percent of films, and up to 90 percent of all software are produced illegally, wrote Keith Bush, research director with the U.S.-Russia Business Council, in a report published this month.

And the counterfeiting of clothing, footwear, household chemicals and drugs are "rampant," he said.

Despite the extent of the problem, however, protecting intellectual property has not been among the government's top priorities, said Peter Necarsulmer, president of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, a Commonwealth of Independent States lobbying group that has been pushing for amendments to trademark legislation for years. "It comes lower than economic stability, balancing the budget and dealing with crime," he said.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov last month declared a war on piracy and set up a Cabinet-level committee to tackle the problem, but members have yet to be chosen.

Ironically, some of the blame, Necarsulmer said, can be attributed to companies that usually focus on protecting their own brands. "Trademark owners, copyright owners, software developers all have focused on their separate interests rather than coalescing around the core issues that confront all IP owners," he said.

Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that while the amendments show that work is being done on the problem, a number of changes are needed to other laws. "Usually in this country, you pass one law and it affects about six others, and the other six have to be changed to make them consistent," he said.

Necarsulmer said only then will Russia conform with WTO intellectual property requirements.

The amendments must still be passed in the third and final reading, be approved by the Federation Council and signed by the president, but that is generally a formality.

Nonetheless, Alexander Korchagin, general director of the government trademark agency Rospatent, called on all trademark owners, domestic and international, to actively support the third and final reading "so that we can be sure Russia's intellectual property regime will assist, not slow down, our country's WTO accession."