Stealing ideas, 1

During a weekly zoom session with former classmates, one of them complained that she saw an almost exact copy of a Manansala she had inherited, in an on-line catalogue of an auction house. Another one detected a perfume of fraud when a copy of her own painting was for sale at a private club in Makati. She spoke to the manager who clammed up like an oyster after saying that the imitation was a consignment. To console my friends, I told them about Celia Molano, the jeweler, who once accompanied balikbayan relatives to the pearl market in Greenhills only to see a stall owner unabashedly bring out a copy of her book and offer to make copies of Celia’s designs at a cheaper price. Celia could have sued the hapless vendor.

Not only jewelers and painters but also inventors, sculptors, furniture- makers, fashion designers, chefs, poets and writers are victims of intellectual theft. We writers are mercilessly plagiarized by both students and high government officials. Anyone with an original idea translated on canvas, stone or glass, wood, gold, silver or paper is vulnerable. Since ideas are intangible until manifested in material things, unscrupulous unimaginative humans believe it is not a crime to appropriate them and make money out of them. There is an Intellectual Protection Law, I told my friends, and promised more information for our next zoom session.

Well, I did not have to rootle around my files, I called up a lawyer friend, Daniel S. Hofileña, who in his much younger days, invited Ellen Tordesillas and me to his school to speak on journalism. Today, he is the foremost authority on the Intellectual Protection Law. Atty. Daniel made history burst forth: As early as 500 B.C. in the Greek city of Sybaris, patents were issued for luxury items to protect inventors who wanted to reap the benefits of their own creations. That is probably the origin of the adjective “sybaritic”. In medieval England, the Parliament enacted the Statute of Monopolies in 1623, which gave “letters of patent” that protected new inventions for a period of 14 years.

During the glory days of European empires, world fairs were in vogue as these colonial powers wanted to justify the brutal conquest and exploitation of their colonial subjects by showing their purportedly “civilizing” influence on “savage” peoples. The world fairs were spectacular installations and the empires sent each other invitations to exhibit their achievements, as well as to see awesome displays of the latest inventions and products made from natural resources of their colonies. They flaunted their progress in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, engineering and architecture, transportation, food production, luxury items, etc. Soon enough, it became apparent that those who had worthwhile inventions were wary of revealing their ideas, for fear of duplication. After all, those world fairs were prowling grounds of unscrupulous agents and merchants looking for someone else’s scientific research, innovative designs and products in order to deconstruct and copy these for profit. Today we call it reverse or back engineering.

According to Atty. Daniel Hofileña, to prevent intellectual theft, the government of the Austro-Hungarian Empire passed a special law that gave temporary protection to the inventions or ideas of those who would participate in world fairs. In 1873, the Congress of Vienna for Patent Reform was convened followed by a Diplomatic Conference in Paris in 1883, which may be considered the ”grandparents” of TRIPS, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. This multi-national agreement comprises the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it took effect on 1 January 1995. The TRIPS became the working guideline of Republic Act. No. 8293 which is the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines. The law upholds reciprocity, emphasizes the social function of intellectual property rights, thus giving Filipino citizens the much-needed protection of the products of their intellectual labors. This law encompasses patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

Celia Molano could invoke the Intellectual Property Code, and I suppose, so can the heirs of Vicente Manansala. I asked Daniel about the HOCUS paintings which were exhibited at the National

Museum of Fine Arts in 2017 and early this year, before the pandemic. The HOCUS paintings are part duet, part duel which makes them truly unique. There is an undisputed intellectual author Atty. Saul HOfileña, Jr, Daniel’s father, the historian who conceptualized what should be painted on each canvas by Guy CUStodio, the artist whom HOfileña has engaged to translate his ideas and “visions” emanating from historical facts, tediously and painstakingly researched.

During the two HOCUS exhibitions, many people wanted to buy paintings, but lawyer-historian, Saul HOfileña, Jr., the intellectual author and owner of the collections said none were for sale. Those interested could instead purchase the two deluxe edition catalogs in four colors which were launched during the opening of the exhibitions. The first was titled HOCUS and the second, an intrepid encore, QUADRICULA (Hocus II).

What if one fine day while dining at a high-end restaurant in an out-of-town gallery, I find myself sitting in front of a HOCUS look-alike? I would probably choke on my French onion soup! How would the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines apply?– I asked Atty. Daniel Hofileña. (more)