IPOPHL ATTY. ROWEL BARBA
IPOPHL Director General Intellectual Property culture in the Philippines
BY JAVIER P. FLORES
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL GENEROSO
Rowel Barba walks with a quiet sense of self-assurance; there is no ostentatiousness to his stride. He gives off the impression that in a pinch, he can be relied upon to deliver without a fuss and without calling attention to himself.
In another time, Barba was the Undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). And if the reward for good work is more work, then Barba must have done well at the DTI. He was given more responsibilities, but this time in the service of the creative and innovative industry. Barba was appointed Director General of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) on Feb. 6, 2020, a month before a nationwide lockdown came into effect.
As former Undersecretary of the DTI, he answered to Secretary Ramon Lopez, whom he previously worked with at RFM Corporation, the leading food and beverage company. At the DTI, in addition to his being the Chief of Staff of the Secretary, Barba supervised several groups, including the Office of the Secretary, Competitiveness and Ease of Doing Business Group, and the Management Services Group. He also sat on Boards relevant to the construction industry and foreign trade, among other industries. “In the DTI, you handle all the concerns of industries, businesses, importers, exporters, and you deal with the Bureau of Customs, logistics groups, the Department of Transportation and other government agencies,” Barba says. “But one good thing with working with other government agencies is that we had a ‘whole-of-nation’ approach.”
Director General Barba is bringing his DTI-honed skillset to IPOPHL: the ability to network various offices and to collaborate among diverse interests to deliver at faster turnaround times. This is why in his six-point agenda, encapsulated in the word “BRIGHT,” B stands for “Building Collaboration and Partnerships.”
“Based on my experience,” Barba explains, “the whole-of-nation approach is really the key in making sure that we promote an IP culture in the Philippines. We cannot do it alone. And with the limited resources of IPOPHL, we need assistance from other government agencies.”
B IS FOR BUILDING COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIPS
Because of Barba’s initiative, IPOPHL signed an agreement with the Philippine Trade Trading Center – Global MSME Academy (PTTCGMEA) and the DTI to mainstream and integrate intellectual property (IP) education into the training and learning programs.
With the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the DTI, the Director General signed what he refers to as a “Super Highway Agreement,” providing DOST-supported innovators not just a faster lane for their registration of their IPs, but also an avenue to foster a closer working relationship supportive of DOST projects.
With the private sector, IPOPHL signed an agreement with the Licensing Executives Society Philippines (LESP) to organize a certificate program for advanced learning on IP licensing in the Philippines, with the end-goal of helping inventor-investor partners benefit from licensing agreements.
With the academe, IPOPHL inked an agreement with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) to scale up IP management skills of local startups trained under the AIM Dado Banatao Incubator (AIM-DBI) Program.
In the international scene, the Philippines signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, the biggest regional free trade agreement in the world. The Agreement seeks to further regional cooperation and economic integration through the creation, strategic utilization, and protection of intellectual property.
R IS TO RAISE THE ANTE FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE
The R in BRIGHT aims to “raise the ante on customer service.” Barba seeks to deliver ownership of trademarks and patents at faster turnaround times so that businesses would be able to commercialize their output faster.
As the Philippines is gunning for a knowledge-based economy, meaning an economy driven by knowledge products which the very IP system aims to generate, it is only right that we give our stakeholders, who contribute greatly to this knowledge economy, the best and fastest service we can give them,” says Barba. Despite the need for funds, IPOPHL has not increased its registration fees in consideration of the plight of many businesses due to the pandemic.
I IS TO INTEGRATE AWARENESS AND EDUCATION IN SOCIETY
Barba thinks that his predecessors have done a great service in creating awareness for IP rights in the country, but he feels there is room to move progress faster.
“We want all Filipinos especially those na nasa laylayan to understand IP and have an IP culture here in the Philippines,” he stresses, noting that the esoteric legal doctrines in IP is the biggest hurdle for many to appreciate the subject.
To address this problem, IPOPHL is continuously augmenting its presence on social media by creating light messages and “hugot lines” that netizens can more easily relate to.
“While IP is very important today, we cannot force people to take in an entire set of legal jargons. So what we do is create amusing and even comical socmed messages on IP. This way, we secure the attention of the netizens and educate them about IP,” Barba said.
At the frontline of IPOPHL’s overall awareness campaign is the Communications & Marketing Office (CMO) composed of millennials who also scout for MSME success stories that had been made possible with IP.
“By featuring their inspiring stories on our website and our social media pages, IPOPHL helps MSMEs further market their IP products, while also showing people what IP can do for small businesses because we also want to eradicate the misconception that IPs are only for the giant companies,” Barba said.
In fact, encouraging more MSMEs to integrate IP activities and strategies into their business models is the main objective of the National IP Month this April.
With the theme, “Intellectual Property and MSMEs: Our Road to Recovery,” the month-long celebration which IPOPHL leads will offer various activities and events aimed at enhancing MSMEs’ understanding of creating, managing, and protecting their IPs.
IPOPHL will also tout its programs specifically tailored for MSMEs.
One of these is the Juana Make a Mark Program that waives trademark application fees for MSMEs founded by a woman or a group with at least one woman as a member.
Other programs include the Inventor Assistance Program that provides free legal advice on patent applications and free basic seminars on patent search and drafting; the IP Depot, an online marketplace where MSMEs can market their IP-protected products for free; and free basic IP lessons that are now made available online in light of the pandemic.
G IS TO GO BACK TO BASICS
The Director General believes that for IP to thrive in a country, there should be effective enforcement, because, otherwise, it would be a waste. “There is no need to promote registration if you will not be able to enforce it. It goes hand in hand,” he underscores. Enforcement is any action taken by IP rights holders to prevent the unauthorized production, use, and sale of their IP assets. While it is the IP right holder who must take action, IPOPHL, through a whole-of-nationapproach, is modifying its policy framework to provide IP right holders a wider array of enforcement options that are more robust and appropriate in a digital world, which has spurred counterfeiting and piracy around the world.
IPOPHL’s IP Rights Enforcement Office (IEO) recently updated its rules to have a more proactive function in curbing counterfeits and piracy online. With the new rules, the IEO can now launch motu proprio investigations on possible IP violations, elevate to IP right holders online posts or ads that infringe on their IPs, and order the take down of IP-offending posts through the help of pertinent government agencies.
Meanwhile, to promote enforcement on a wider scale, Barba has been made acting chair of the inter-agency National Committee and Intellectual Property Rights (NCIPR). It is a 12-member agency body that works together for the protection of IP rights in the Philippines. As chair, he will try to ensure that the Philippines stays out of the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 report, which assesses the IP rights environment of US’ trading partners and draws up a watchlist that tags those notorious for counterfeiting and piracy activities. For seven years, the country has been out of this list.
Working with the British Embassy, IPOPHL also initiated a Memorandum of Understanding between brand owners and e-commerce platforms. like Lazada and Shopee to promote self-policing in the fight against online counterfeiting and piracy. The platforms will require sellers to show that they own the brands they are selling. The MOU, signed on March 1, 2021, “establishes a code of practice among online marketplaces, as well as an efficient notice and takedown procedure, to intensify our fight against the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods over the internet. This is especially crucial with counterfeit and piracy complaints and reports surging to a record-high last year,” Barba says.
H IS TO HIGHLIGHT HUMAN CAPITAL
IPOPHL will continue to upskill its employees, especially in increasing proficiency in the area of examinations. He is also pushing for more manpower, in the form of more plantilla positions, to be able to handle more work in the coming years, because the limited number of current examiners can only do so much.
T IS TRANSFORM IPOPHL INTO A FULLY DIGITIZED AGENCY
In October, IPOPHL finally launched a plan that has been in the works for years: The IPOPHL Mobiliz, a mobile application that’s downloadable on Google and the App Store. Barba said that 50% of the load of its call center involves follow-up queries on registration status. With the app, applicants can check the status of the evaluation of its marks or patents without having to call IPOPHL.
IPOPHL, through its Bureau of Legal Affairs, which handles IP violations and cases, devised a system for online mediations and hearings, making IPOPHL one of the first government agencies to do so in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Mediation allows parties to settle their disputes out of court. By this year, Barba projects that IPOPHL should be a fully digitalized government agency, which is why, the biggest allocation of its budget this year is for its management information system (MIS).
VOW OF A DIRECTOR GENERAL
To the creative industry, Barba vows to strengthen Collective Management Organizations (CMO) beginning with the professionalization of their governance. CMOs manage the commercialization of the work of copyright owners, allowing copyright users the ease of just dealing with one payment and processing facility. This gives creators more time to work on their craft. Some of the CMOs currently accredited in the Philippines are the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP) and the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society (FILCOLS). Barba lamented how the local creative industry has been among the worst hit by the pandemic.
As such, IPOPHL’s Bureau of Copyright and Related Rights last year immediately gathered writers, film makers, animators, and music artists, among other creative economy players, and provided avenues for discussion on how they can unlock the economic potential from their copyrighted works.
Among these dialogues were the “Copyright Forum Series: The Global State of the Creative Sector and Music Industry in Time of COVID-19 and Way Forward” and the “Copyright Forum 2020: Copyright Issues Arising from Online Learning,” both of which drew in a large virtual attendance.
Moreover, together with DTI, Barba would like to initiate a study that would determine the real contribution of the creative industry in the country and recognize it. From there, the Director General hopes to create a roadmap for the industry.
In just a little over a year that DG Barba has been holding the reins at IPOPHL, he has done so much already, despite the debilitating effect of the pandemic. One begins to wonder if he has the energy to do more, but if his stint at the DTI is any indication, then he has more than enough fuel in his tank. At the DTI, instead of getting overwhelmed by the sheer load of work, Barba thrived in shifting between responsibilities and employing various skills simultaneously. This ability can only be to the benefit of IPOPHL, the MSMEs, innovators, and the creatives who need IPOPHL to unlock the economic potential of their IP assets. Barba has until 2024 in his term—unless extended—but we are already seeing so much from the span of just one-fifth of his term. And based on the goals that he has discussed and is determined to attain, the country can look forward to seeing in the near future a transformation of the IP system, with more inclusiveness and higher economic, social, and technological impact to the country, just exactly as IPOPHL hopes for.