Impact of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”) on the Intellectual Property Framework in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”)

Impact of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”) on the Intellectual Property Framework in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”)


(Written by: Soh Kar Liang)

The RCEP is the world’s largest free trade agreement established to broaden and deepen the engagement among the 15 participating parties and enhance their participation in the economic development of the region. Participating countries include all ASEAN member states, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.  Together, theconstitute approximately 30 percent of global GDP and a third of the world population.  

The RCEP includes a chapter on intellectual property (IP).[1] This IP chapter aims to reduce IP-related barriers to trade and investment by promoting economic integration and cooperation in the utilization, protection, and enforcement of intellectual property rightsas well as to promote technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology.  

Key features of the IP Chapter 

1. The IP Chapter requires accession to key international IP treaties.  All participating countries except Myanmar are already part of these treaties. The IP Chapter is effectively directed at bringing Myanmar’s IP protection regime up to global standards, hopefully paving the way to creating greater commercial incentives for trade and investment from other participating countries.  

2. The IP Chapter includes provisions to streamline and align processes for establishing and securing various IP rights, such as the implementation of electronic filing of applications and provision of access to IP databases online. This would encourage greater transparency and IP access to businesses, potentially saving costs and time.  

3. The IP Chapter reaffirms important aspects of IP enforcement. This includes national obligations to provide effective civil, criminal and administrative enforcement avenues and remedies to IP owners, extending to aspects like provisional and border measures under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights under the World Trade Organisation (“TRIPS”)destruction of pirated and counterfeit products, and disposal of materials and implements predominantly used to create infringing goods. The clear intention is to give right holders greater confidence to innovate and create by taking a tougher stance against pirated and counterfeit products and reducing the risk of further infringement. 

4. The IP Chapter goes beyond the scope of TRIPS, requiring the protection of technological measures used by IP owners to prevent circumvention of their works, and the protection of electronic rights management information (e.g., author identity, terms and conditions of use)Such measures are timely as business are becoming increasingly active in the digital realm 

The RCEP is expected to drive important improvements to IP protection among participating countries and to set common standards across AsiaEven so, the IP Chapter of RCEP seems subdued compared to what more recent multilateral agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) may herald. Business owners in the region should do well to stay alert for more news in this regard.   

[1] CHAPTER 11 INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY”, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership https://rcepsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Chapter-11.pdf (accessed 25 February 2021)