Are Intellectual Property Rights Respected in Turkmenistan?

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) published its 2023 Special 301 Report evaluating the state of intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement in U.S. trading partners around the world. It also includes a section on Turkmenistan, which is summarized below.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are exclusive rights given to people over the use of their creation for a certain period of time. The rights are divided into two main areas: (1) copyright given to authors of literary and artistic works (e.g. writings such as books, music, films, paintings, sculpture or computer programs) and (2) industrial property to protect distinctive signs and designs such as trademarks (e.g. Apple, Coca-Cola or Louis Vuitton).

After reviewing more than 100 trading partners USTR has identified six countries on a “Priority Watch List” and another 22 countries on the “Watch List.” From Central Asia Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were put on the Watch List group. Being on the list means that these countries’ laws, policies, and practices fail to provide adequate and effective IP protection, enforcement or market access for persons relying on IP rights. IP is crucial for fostering innovation and creativity which have been the cornerstone of American economic development.

The examples of intellectual property (IP) infringement include – patent infringement, trademark counterfeiting, trade in forged goods, copyright piracy and trade secret theft.

The report mentions the positive steps taken by Turkmenistan which includes the following:

  • Turkmenistan’s State Agency for Intellectual Property proactively sought out capacity building programs for its officials.
  • Adoption of a Programme of Development of the Intellectual Property System of Turkmenistan for 2021-2025.
  • Issuance of a Presidential resolution on the establishment of an interdepartmental commission for the protection of intellectual property (IP).
  • Participation at meetings of the Intellectual Property Working Group under the United States-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Nevertheless, Turkmenistan lacks tangible progress in raising its IP protection to international standards. Several long-standing IP concerns raised in previous reports remain unaddressed including:

  • Lack of presidential-level decree, law, or regulation mandating the use of licensed software by government ministries and agencies. Some government agencies continue to use unlicensed software.
  • Outdated copyright protection for foreign sound recordings (e.g. music, songs or audio recordings) including through accession to and implementation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet Treaties.
  • Lack of legislative IP reforms including providing enforcement officials with authority to seize and destroy counterfeit goods at the border during import, export, or in-transit movement, without the need for a formal complaint from a right holder.
  • Failure to enforce its IP laws. Counterfeit and pirated goods reportedly remain widely available in major cities in Turkmenistan.
  • Lack of transparency including publishing the activities of the State Service for Intellectual Property and providing data on seizures facilitated by the State Customs Service.
  • Mandatory requirements to record trademark licenses which results in unnecessary administrative and financial burdens on trademark owners and create difficulty in the enforcement and maintenance of trademark rights.

During Central Asia in the Multilateral Trading System: The Case for WTO Accession conference on June 8-9, 2023 a participant pointed out Turkmenistan’s placement in the Watchlist and asked what the government of Turkmenistan was doing to improve IPR protection and enforcement in the country. Rakhimberdi Dzhepbarov, the Chairmen of the Board of the State Bank of Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan denied having any problems related to IPR but he added: “the government was reporting to and working closely with relevant international organizations to clarify these issues and I believe that shortly we will overcome all of these problems”.

The Special Report calls upon countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where the government often uses unlicensed software, to set an example of respecting intellectual property for private enterprises. The use of unlicensed software can also expose governments and companies to higher risks of security vulnerabilities. The report states that the United States is ready to assist Turkmenistan in improving its IP regime through engagement facilitated by the Intellectual Property Working Group under the United States-Central Asia TIFA.

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