Intellectual property infringement through the circulation and sale of counterfeit goods is still very much both a global and a local issue. As modern day counterfeiting is now acquiring more sophisticated forms involving a plethora of new and usually unsuspected goods (for example, pharmaceuticals) and with the intent of not only existing on the black markets but infiltrating into the legal market flows as well, we are faced with the need for a more aggressive approach requiring first and foremost improved legislation and subsequently more efficient enforcement activities.
Serbia’s eagerness to improve IPR enforcement, not only as one of the prerequisites on the path to European integration but also, simply, because intellectual property protection is very much a necessity in this modern day and age, is best reflected through the gearing up of the harmonization process of the country’s IP legislation with that of acquis communautaire. As a case in point, Serbia’s intellectual property-related legislation is, now, almost fully compliant with that of the EU except for a few minor tweaks still to be made with regards to – in-particular – copyright protection.
Setting up a strong legislative framework also serves as a stepping stone towards more efficient enforcement of intellectual property rights, ultimately allowing for greater awareness of the importance of the lawful use of intellectual property rights and a concurrent improvement of the local economy through the increase of workflow and filling up of state coffers.
The implementation of a strong legislative framework with speedy and positive enforcement outcomes would have remained only semi-successful, however, without constant monitoring of EU and regional best practices and their introduction into the local environment, thus allowing for improved protection and a steady decrease in piracy rates.
Additionally, improving protection through a more decisive and goal-oriented approach from the business community on the one hand and the state and judiciary on the other has led to the current state of affairs, in which pre-enforcement activities involving (for instance) brand owners and their initiatives against counterfeiting and piracy have become just important as the enforcement activities by the state bodies.
As a result, we have come to witness significantly improved cooperation and more transparent communication between the business community and relevant state bodies, with law firms acting as intermediaries.
On the official state level, the Government of the Republic of Serbia also recognized the need for more efficiency and transparency and thus undertook several steps to facilitate more fluid communication between inter-state bodies tasked with IPR protection. Since in Serbia, as in many other countries, there is a number of state bodies tasked with protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights, the responsibilities and tasks of these bodies often overlap – hence the necessity for facilitating more efficient cooperation between them, to allow for a more transparent and efficient protection of said rights. In wanting to achieve these results, the Government focused part of its efforts in 2014 on setting up a formal coordination body consisting of a work group to raise awareness on the importance of protecting intellectual property rights, another to gather and compile statistical data on intellectual property rights infringement cases, and another to develop the national strategy for further improvement of said rights.
This more vigorous approach towards combatting modern day IPR infringement cases requires more expeditious rulings, and thus has also seeded the ground for the semi-specialization of courts consisting of panels of judges specialized in intellectual property rights protection.
In the recent amendments to Serbia’s Law on Court Organization and Law on Seats and Territories of Courts and Public Prosecutors two courts have been singled out to deal with intellectual property-related infringements involving both natural and legal persons. Significantly, this two-point contact existing through the Commercial Court in Belgrade and the Higher Court in Belgrade resulted in a decrease in the deferrals of IPR-related cases and in the unnecessary prolongations of already-lengthy judicial proceedings.
Of course, as elsewhere, although legislation and enforcement are at satisfying levels, improvements will always need to be made – if only because new “counterfeit trends” are knocking at our doors at this very moment.
By Dragomir Kojic, Partner, and Tamara Bubalo, Associate, Karanovic & Nikolic
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.5 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.