Looking out for Mexico's Intellectual Property RightsMon, 09/01/2014 - 12:17
Q: Which role does intellectual property, patent, and trademark protection play in the automotive industry, and in the activities of your law firm?
A: Each industry is trying to promote a culture of protecting intellectual property (IP). Even Mexican companies that were once accused of piracy now seek to protect their IP. The automotive industry, especially around Nuevo Leon, has seen an increase in Mexican companies purchasing or building plants elsewhere in the world, which makes it very important for them to protect their IP. In the last five years, our firm has grown by more than 60% and OEMs have strengthened our client list. We already do a lot of work for big OEMs and suppliers like Nissan, BMW, Ford, GM, Fiat, Land Rover, Metalsa, and Beccar. With companies like Land Rover that do not have manufacturing or research activities in Mexico, we work on trademarks and enforcement.
Q: What is the state of current IP laws in Mexico?
A: The latest IP law came into effect in 1994, which is relatively old considering the technological developments over the last decade. However, we have very good international treaties which came into being in 2011. Prior to 2011, trying to ally a combination of national and international laws in Mexico was very difficult. Today, national and international laws are better, but adding a strong public policy would clear up any other loopholes. An ongoing concern is that there is no public policy to enforce these rights. Mexico has various bodies working on this, such as the Mexican Institute of Intellectual Property (IMPI), but there have been no tangible results from these organisms. Mexico lacks the will to truly fight piracy. In 2013, Mexican customs seized 32 containers. For a country that imports 4 million containers a year, that number is insignificant. Mexico has to convince its global commercial partners that it is serious about protecting intellectual property rights. We must take every case that is presented to the Attorney General’s Office very seriously and ensure each one is heard out until the end. Foreign and national companies alike would benefit greatly from a solid public policy on IP, enforced both in the courts and by wider authorities.
Q: Are these problems mainly due to a lack of regulation or enforcement?
A: We have enough tools to fight piracy in this country. There is always room for improvement in the law but without the right attitude to enforcement, this means nothing. Most of the IP problems we face are linked to the fact that the courts and judges are not always capable of understanding highly technical cases. A good public policy would eliminate these barriers. It all comes down to attitude as anyone can educate themselves about IP law, but this needs to be complemented with a willingness to enforce it and not look the other way.
Q: How do you view the patent culture in Mexico?
A: Foreign entities are filing 16,000 patents a year in Mexico while Mexicans are only filing 1,500. This is an incredible imbalance, although we are still number two in Latin America. The current regional leader, Brazil, is not too far ahead of us. In the past, patents were more commonly used in the US and to a lesser degree in Canada, while they were non-existent in Mexico. However, in recent years, certain industries such as the automotive sector, have seen a growth in patents across North America. Moreover, Canadian IP laws are worse than Mexico’s, which has helped patents grow here. A current trend in the automotive industry is that patents are no longer used for the cars themselves but for technologies that improve a vehicle’s capacity, technology and services.
Q: How has this evolution impacted your law firm?
A: We get new cases daily regarding patents, trademarks and know-how. This has seen us start a real expansion. We are going to start growing in Europe with offices in Madrid, Valencia, and Bilbao. This will allow us to help our clients in Europe, especially given the large number of Spanish companies we work with. Brands need to be more proactive about their IP protection. By doing so, they could save a lot of money in litigation. A change in mentality is required so companies understand that it is far better to put on a seat belt before an accident occurs. We give regular seminars where we explain that if a company is planning to expand in Mexico, protecting their IP should be their top priority. Q: How do you differentiate yourself from other law firms? A: We have a better knowhow of the Mexican market than many international law firms. We currently handle 20% of all IPR cases in Mexico. Not many companies provide the variety of services that we do, so word of mouth has spread quickly about our firm. Our goal for the near future is to continue growing in patents, and exploiting niches to continue growing in Europe, especially Spain.