by Mike Masnick
Thu, Aug 27th 2015 8:22am
Thu, Mar 26th 2015 9:07pm
from the hola! dept
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a Cuban state-owned company and refused to intervene in a dispute over the “Cohiba” trademark. This is the most recent development in the long-standing rivalry between General Cigar Co Inc., an American (and Scandinavian) company, and Cubatabaco, a Cuban company.How fun! We finally open up the borders for some business with Cuba and one of the Castro companies decides it's trademark time! Keep in mind, of course, that the state that owns Cubatabaco is a communist nation, but not so communist that they'll refuse to use our capitalist tools to make that money. This dispute actually goes back nearly two decades, with Cubatabaco originally filing a trademark claim in 1997, which was eventually tossed in 2005 by the Second Circuit court, finding that any transfer of property, including a trademark, to a Cuban company would violate the embargo.
But now that the embargo is gone, Cubatabaco has refiled, with a lower court ruling that the Cuban company could challenge General Cigar's mark with the USPTO even before the embargo was lifted -- a ruling the Supreme Court has refused to send back for review. So there appears to be nothing standing in the way of a trademark challenge.
All that said, it's difficult to see how valid a challenge is, actually, given several factors. First, the two companies as yet don't compete in the same markets, due to the legacy of the embargo. Second, the word "cohiba" might not deserve a trademark held by anyone, given that it is simply a foreign word that means "tobacco" in Taino, a language of the Caribbean. That would be like getting a trademark on your beer brand, Cerveza.
However this turns out, welcome officially to business in the States, Cuba! Now that the embargo doesn't keep property from transfering your way, it's all trademark, patents and copyright from here on out!
by Glyn Moody
Tue, Mar 10th 2015 1:08am
Health Impact Assessment: TPP Poses Risks To Affordable Medicines, Tobacco Control And Nutrition Labeling
from the matter-of-life-and-death dept
The TPP negotiations are still being conducted with a total lack of transparency -- especially compared to TAFTA/TTIP, where public pressure has led to the release of a large number of documents from the EU, though not from the US. Despite that secrecy, the TPP negotiators seem to have no qualms about proclaiming the talks as nearly "done." Since they have been saying something similar for years, skepticism is required, but it is possible that negotiations might be getting closer to the end game where all the really difficult issues need to be addressed.
That makes the absence of any official release of the draft text pretty appalling. Assuming that the final text will be released if and when an agreement is reached, this will leave very little time for the complex provisions to be analyzed properly before the national votes take place in some TPP countries. Given what's at stake -- TPP is likely to have a big impact not just on trade, but also on many aspects of daily life -- one group has decided to pre-empt that eventual release, and to analyze what information we have, notably from leaks. HIA Connect, based in Australia, describes itself as follows:
A resource for health impact assessment (HIA) as a method and a process to ensure that public policies, projects, plans, and programs contribute to the health of the population and health equity.
HIA's new report "Negotiating Healthy Trade in Australia: A Health Impact Assessment of the Proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement" (pdf) focuses on TPP's likely impact on health in Australia, but many of its conclusions apply to other countries participating in the TPP negotations. Here's a summary of its findings:
A report released today by a large team of academics and non-government health organisations reveals that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) poses risks to the health of Australians in areas such as provision of affordable medicines, tobacco and alcohol policies and nutrition labelling. Many public health organisations have been tracking the progress of the TPP negotiations over the past several years and have expressed concerns about the potential impacts and lack of transparency.
As that makes clear, the academics and other experts who put together the report are concerned about a number of adverse effects that TPP is likely to have. Some are familiar, for example the impact on affordable medicines, or on the ability to regulate and restrict tobacco advertising -- an area where Australia is already suffering thanks to corporate sovereignty provisions in other treaties. Others are new, but similar: some TPP provisions could limit the regulation of alcohol availability and alcohol marketing, and restrict alcohol control measures such as pregnancy warning labels. Food is another area where labeling restrictions in TPP could prevent governments from warning about the consumption of unhealthy ingredients.
Of course, supporters of TPP will doubtless say that all this is premature, and that nothing certain can be said until the final text is released -- a point echoed by the authors of the report:
"In the absence of publicly available current drafts of the trade agreement, it is difficult to predict what the impacts of the TPP will be," said Dr Deborah Gleeson, one of the report's authors. "In the study, we traced the potential impacts based on proposals that have been -- or are being -- discussed in the negotiations.
But as Gleeson goes on to point out, there's a very easy way to remedy this problem:
"The only way to properly assess the risks is to allow a comprehensive health impact assessment to be conducted on the final agreement before it gets signed by Cabinet."
Given that people's health and even lives may be at stake here, it is irresponsible for participating governments to withhold the draft texts -- especially since they are allegedly so close to completion -- and thus to prevent a proper health impact assessment of them being conducted well in advance of any final votes.
by Michael Ho
Tue, Feb 24th 2015 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Marijuana could actually be a performance-enhancing drug for athletes who run ultramarathons. After running a hundred miles, some runners enjoy some stress-relieving painkillers that prevent nausea and give you the munchies. [url]
- In national polls, almost half the US population admits to having tried marijuana. As more states legalize pot, some health researchers say there aren't enough long-term health studies to assess its risks. [url]
- A recent study of recreational drugs ranks marijuana as the least risky drug -- far behind alcohol, heroin, cocaine, tobacco and meth. But the stats just say you're not going to die anytime soon from weed, not that it's perfectly safe to abuse. [url]
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Feb 17th 2015 3:31pm
from the good-for-him dept
Now countries can try to counteract the influence of that kind of marketing, but if tobacco companies feel threatened, they'll put them through legal hell. Let me take you on a world tour of how they attack laws intended to protect public health, because it's kind of amazing.He then goes on to point out how Big Tobacco further got three other countries to file complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Australia, claiming the plain packaging law violates trade agreements: Honduras, Dominican Republic and Ukraine. Oliver then shows a clip noting that Ukraine does not have any tobacco trade at all with Australia, showing how ridiculous the WTO claim is.
Let's start in Australia. In 2011, they passed a plain packaging law, and what that means is this. [Shows (fair use!) news clip describing required packaging of cigarettes with no branding, and scary health pictures]. Australia's plain packaging law bans tobacco company branding from packaging and replaced it with upsetting photos, such as the toe tag on a corpse, the cancerous mouth, the nightmarish eyeball, or the diseased lung. Now, yes, I'm pretty sure I'd find a healthy lung disgusting, but, that thing does look like you're trying to breathe through baked ziti, so [instructing staff] take it down! Just take it down!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this law was implemented, total consumption of tobacco cigarettes in Australia fell to record lows and... nightmares about eyeballs have risen to record highs. [Instructing staff] Take it down! Take down the demon eye!
To get these laws, though, Australia has had to run a gamut of lawsuits. First, two tobacco companies sued Australia in its highest court to stop them. The result, was a little surprising, as Australia's attorney general let everyone know. [Shows clip of AG announcing not just the victory, but Big Tobacco having to pay the government's legal fees.] Yes! Score one for the little guy! Even if that little guy is the sixth largest country in the world by landmass.
And the tobacco companies didn't just lose. The judges called their case "delusive," "unreal and synthetic" and said their case had "fatal defects." ....
But Australia's legal troubles were just beginning. Because then, Philip Morris Asia got involved. [Shows clips of a news report saying Philip Morris considering using ISDS provisions to take the Australian government to a tribunal claiming it lowered the value of the company's trademarks].
That's right. A company was able to sue a country over a public health measure, through an international court. How the fuck is that possible? Well, it's really a simple explanation. They did it by digging up a 1993 trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong which had a provision that said Australia couldn't seize Hong Kong-based companies' property. So, nine months before the lawsuits started, PMI put its Australian business in the hands of its Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia division, and then they sued, claiming that the "seized property" in question, were the trademarks on their cigarette packages.
And you've got to give it to them: that's impressive. Someone should really give those lawyers a pat on the back... and a punch in the face. But, a pat on the back first. Pat, then punch. Pat, punch....
Next, he shows how Big Tobacco is sending threatening letters to other countries, like Uruguay, Togo and Namibia for considering health regulations around tobacco products, even going so far as to totally misrepresent the total loss of its lawsuit in Australia, pretending that it was a victory. Oliver's researchers got letters that Big Tobacco sent these countries, threatening "an incalculable amount of international trade litigation."
There's even more in the video -- though it would be great if Oliver also took on the fact that these kinds of ISDS/corporate sovereignty agreements are at the heart of key trade agreements currently being negotiated today by the US and much of the rest of the world in both the TPP agreement and the TTIP agreement.
It's because of stories like this that we're so concerned about these corporate sovereignty provisions. Defenders insist they're necessary to stop countries from absconding with assets built by foreign companies and investors, but that risk tends to be fairly limited, compared to how these agreements are actually being used: to allow corporations to effectively step in and block regulations designed to protect the public.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Oct 15th 2014 1:42pm
from the horse-trading dept
Another popular use of corporate sovereignty claims is the tobacco industry, going after countries that pass "plain packaging" laws (which say that all cigarette packaging needs to be without logos and trademarks and such). Whether or not you agree with such laws, the idea that big tobacco companies can take entire countries to these tribunals, demanding many millions of dollars based on laws those countries decided to pass, seems troubling. It's especially been concerning to health officials who have long favored plain packaging regulations.
Apparently, the latest move to salvage corporate sovereignty provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has the USTR attempting to throw Big Tobacco under the bus by removing tobacco from the ISDS provisions. This is an incredibly cynical and political move, designed to try to quiet some of the health activists' talking points about the plain packaging fights -- while leaving the overall basis of these corporate sovereignty provisions wholly in place.
While I don't always (or often) agree with the AFL-CIO, its response to this cynical attempt to carve Big Tobacco out of the deal is dead on:
In fact, the cheap attempt by the USTR to toss Big Tobacco under the bus to get a deal done really does more to underline the problems of corporate sovereignty positions, rather than to help smooth things over. If ISDS isn't appropriate for Big Tobacco, why is it appropriate for Big Pharma? Or big mining companies?
The proposed carve-out will not stop multinationals like Veolia from suing the government of Egypt for raising the minimum wage. It wonâ€™t stop the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly from suing Canada over patent requirements or stop extractive company Pacific Rim Mining (a Canadian company that has since been bought by the Australian multinational OceanaGold) from demanding compensation when El Salvador refuses to let it pollute the local water supply by operating a gold mine.
Any industry-specific carve-out will not address the serious structural problems inherent in the system itself. Issues of broad public interest should not be viewed through the narrow lens of trade and investment at all, let alone decided by unaccountable private panels. Systems of justice should be transparent and accessible on an equal basis. ISDS is anything but: Only foreign investors can use it and there are no requirements that affected communities be allowed to participate or even have their view considered. In many cases, there often are not even requirements that hearings or decisions be made available to the public at all! Even in the case of clear legal error, it is almost impossible to reverse a decision.
The USTR has continued to push out-of-date regulatory concepts into modern trade agreements. These are clearly designed not with the public interest in mind, but with a focus on what's best for the representatives of a few giant companies who are close to the USTR. Helping a few giant multinationals undermine regulations around the globe may be good for future job prospects in the industry, but it's hardly the incentives we should want for public servants.
by Michael Ho
Thu, Apr 4th 2013 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Tobacco plants can be made transgenic in order to grow vaccines for us, and they've been shown to be able to produce over a million doses of vaccine in a few weeks. DARPA has a challenge out to anyone who can produce vaccines at a rate of 10 million doses in a month. [url]
- Genetically modified tobacco plants can be grown and harvested by robots -- producing vaccine proteins very quickly and efficiently -- without the need for human labor. These robots can grow tens of thousands of tobacco plants in a batch, and it's likely only a matter of time before researchers can get these plant factories to produce other kinds of pharmaceuticals. [url]
- Flublok relies on insects to grow flu vaccines for us -- a process that has been used for other kinds of vaccines, but has only started to be used for the flu. Flublok has already been FDA approved, so it will be available to patients for the 2013-2014 flu season. [url]
- Bananas could potentially be grown with edible vaccines, but the regulatory hurdles for development have caused researchers to focus on non-edible vaccines grown in other plants (like tobacco). Bananas grown for edible vaccines might still be viable for treating fish or other animals. [url]
by Michael Ho
Thu, Aug 23rd 2012 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Smokers in the US could be extinct by 2046 -- not from dying, but because fewer and fewer people are smoking and a simple extrapolation points to about 34 years from now. A Citibank report has a few other linear predictions for the end of smoking: the UK in 2040, France in 2118, Germany in 2280... [url]
- In 2000, Philip Morris commissioned an infamous study in the Czech Republic on the impact of smoking -- which found that the cost "benefits" of smokers' early mortality along with cigarette-tax revenue outweighed the economic drawbacks of the healthcare costs for smokers. Live fast, die young... and help the national debt/deficit. [url]
- The FDA is looking at dissolvable, smokeless tobacco products that look a lot like candy. Chocolate, peanut butter and nicotine -- three great tastes that taste great together. [url]
by Glyn Moody
Thu, Dec 1st 2011 7:41am
from the who-needs-lungs-anyway? dept
As the matter is currently before the Court, BAT is unable to comment other than to say that this is a further demonstration that we will take all necessary steps to protect our valuable intellectual property.Given that stance, it will come as no surprise to learn that tobacco companies are now threatening to take on the European Commission as well:
EU Health Commissioner John Dalli will face legal action if he tries to reproduce Australia's plain-packaging proposals for cigarettes in Europe, a tobacco industry representative warned this week.The approach is the same as in Australia:
One likely focus of attack is intellectual property rights, since plain packaging has a smothering effect on companies' logos and trademarks.I'd like to think that the word "smothering" was taken verbatim from some tobacco company representative, because it sums up nicely the industry's attitude: that any breathing difficulties or respiratory diseases that you may develop as the result of smoking pale into insignificance compared with the outrageous "smothering" of their logos and trademarks.
That's a particularly callous attitude, because those logos and trademarks are only valuable to the degree they have been attached to products that have caused death and disease: the "best" brands are those with a track record of selling – and hence killing – more people than rival products. In effect, the tobacco companies are complaining that all their hard work getting people addicted and smoking themselves to death will be wasted if the plain-packaging proposals for cigarettes are implemented.
The cynical posturing of tobacco firms as the victims in these continuing attempts to undo and avoid the social harm they cause underlines once more how easily intellectual monopolies can be twisted for purposes far from any original justification they may once have had. Patents can kill: so, it seems will trademarks, if tobacco companies get their way.
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