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Taiwan Boosts Intellectual Property Protection


Taiwan's parliament has passed a new law, cracking down on illegal file-sharing networks and those who use them. Last month, the island's new Intellectual Property Court handed a record trademark infringement award to French luxury goods maker Hermès. Both events demonstrate how Taiwan is taking intellectual property protection more seriously.

After years as a haven for copyright and trademark violators, Taiwan is now cracking down on abuses. Before 2005, peer-to-peer networks and illegal music download sites operated with impunity - even charging for their services in some cases.

This week, the legislature passed a new anti-file-sharing amendment - the latest to the basic copyright law. The amendment makes it a crime for anyone to deploy peer-to-peer technology that facilitates the exchange of copyrighted material online. The bill also incorporates a three-strike provision, restricting Internet access to users who download copyrighted material more than twice.

The bill comes less than a year after the establishment of Taiwan's Intellectual Property Court. In March, the court fined a former Hermès saleswoman $7.5 million (U.S.) for selling fake crocodile-skin bags several years ago.

Peter Dernbach is a lawyer at Winkler Partners, the Taipei-based law firm that represented Hermès in the trademark infringement suit. He says big fines are the only way to deter potential scofflaws from infringing on copyrights.

"The decision is a great decision, not only for foreign rights holders, but for all rights holders here in Taiwan, because it shows that Taiwan's IP Court is willing to award significant damages which will make the civil claims - the compensatory damages that are able to be recovered in civil claims - more realistic," said Dernbach.

But Margaret Chen, the deputy director general of Taiwan's Intellectual Property Office, says it is too early to conclude that big awards are now the norm.

Chen says that, because the IP court was only established last July, it is impossible to reach any conclusion about its effectiveness. But foreign chambers of commerce in Taiwan say that IP cases are being handled more quickly and that settlement amounts have increased.

In the past, foreign rights holders were the only ones concerned with protection of intellectual property in Taiwan. But, as local industries have matured and become more innovative, they too are benefiting from better domestic IP protections.

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