Intellectual property rights in international investment agreements: striving for coherence in national and international law

Tania Voon, Andrew Mitchell, James Munro

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The investment arbitration launched by Philip Morris Asia (PMA) against Australia in 20111 in relation to Australia's mandatory plain packaging of tobacco products is a recent reminder of the significant protections for intellectual property rights (IPRs) in international investment agreements. Given its focus on trademarks, the Philip Morris dispute provides a useful case study for exploring the relationship between intellectual property and international investment law. The parallel legal challenges brought by various tobacco companies against Australia in the High Court of Australia2 on constitutional grounds and by Ukraine,3 Honduras,4 the Dominican Republic,5 Cuba6 and Indonesia7 against Australia in the World Trade Organization (WTO) also make this a valuable case for demonstrating the fragmenting nature of intellectual property law at the domestic and international levels. That fragmentation poses challenges for international trade and investment law, raising questions concerning the relationship between intellectual property rights conceived at the domestic level with the protections available in international fora. For example, what significance does the High Court's conception of intellectual property under Australian law have for the claims against plain packaging under the Agreement between the Government of Hong Kong and the Government of Australia for the Promotion and Protection of Investments (‘Hong Kong-Australia BIT’)8 and the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement)? By using the Philip Morris case study, this chapter aims to explore the complex interaction between intellectual property and international investment agreements (IIAs), meaning bilateral investment treaties (BITs), plurilateral investment treaties such as the Energy Charter Treaty, and preferential trade agreements containing investment provisions. After explaining the background to the Philip Morris dispute in its various forms, we consider the protection of intellectual property as an ‘investment’ under IIAs. We then examine three substantive investment obligations in connection with intellectual property: most-favourednation obligations, expropriation, and so-called ‘umbrella clauses’. This chapter reveals the high degree of uncertainty permeating the relationship between intellectual property and international investment law.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Economic Law After the Global Crisis
Subtitle of host publicationA Tale of Fragmented Disciplines
EditorsC. L. Lim, Bryan Mercurio
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139871853
ISBN (Print)9781107075696
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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