GATT Perspective: U.S. Involvement

On December 8, 1994, the United States adopted a new law to implement the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which significantly alters many U.S. intellectual property laws. The law, officially known as the "Uruguay Round Agreements Act", formally approves the trade agreements resulting from the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), entered into on April 15, 1994. One hundred twenty four nations participated in GATT. The approved trade agreements include the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). TRIPs has committed member countries to a degree of intellectual property protection higher than any of the existing multinational treaties. The new U.S. "Uruguay Round Agreements Act" (known hereafter as the "GATT Act") will bring the United States into compliance with the internationally adopted provisions of intellectual property protection under GATT/TRIPs. The GATT Act implements changes ranging from sweeping revision of U.S. patent laws to minor revision of U.S. trademark laws. Many other member nations are to make even greater changes to their intellectual property laws.

GATT/TRIPs member nations are committed to adopt specific provisions for enforcement and settlement of intellectual property disputes, between both private parties and member nations. For example, the enactment of criminal penalties is required for trademark counterfeiting and commercial copyright piracy. As a result, the U.S. GATT Act provides for monetary fines and imprisonment for illegal copying and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performances.

The 1994 GATT, TRIPs and other approved trade agreements were annexed to the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO), approved on April 15, 1994. The WTO was ratified by a sufficient number of GATT member nations on January 1, 1995, and accordingly, implementation of WTO provisions will occur one year thereafter on January 1, 1996. The WTO will succeed the GATT and assume responsibility for the previous GATT functions. Over 100 nations are expected to eventually be members of the WTO. Significantly, the WTO will have responsibility for certain intellectual property standards of protection, enforcement, and dispute settlement. Member nations of the GATT/WTO are also committed to join the most recent versions of the Berne Convention and the Paris Convention. The Paris Convention is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Coordination between the WTO and the WIPO is necessary and will hopefully be an on going process to prevent duplicative intellectual property bureaucracy.

The GATT Act results in many changes to U.S. intellectual property law which must be implemented by the government agencies having authority to promulgate rules and administer the rules. For example, on December 12, 1994, the Patent and Trademark Office proposed new rules for public comment to implement a 20 year patent term and provisional patent applications. Thus, the adoption of the GATT Act is merely the beginning of a rule making process which will proceed for months.

Furthermore, the rules are currently being changed to implement U.S. compliance with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). See our April 1994 Intellectual Property Report. The final rules must ensure compliance with both GATT and NAFTA.