One of the first questions people ask after hearing that INTA opened an office in Singapore is: “Why?” The most straightforward response is: “To serve our members in the region.” We can cite figures that show 18% of our membership comes from Asia-Pacific, or that attendance from Asia-Pacific to the Annual Meeting helped tip us over the 10,000 registration mark this year, but INTA’s mission is more than just serving our current members and their interests. Our mission is much bigger and more universal: To support trademarks in order to protect consumers and promote fair and effective commerce.
The Asia-Pacific office serves over 20 jurisdictions and is the first office to cover countries classified by the United Nations as being Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – 4 of which are in Asia, and 9 in the Pacific.
Supporting small companies in LDCs
A great example of the value INTA has for LDCs is a panel session we organized during the Lao PDR IP Fair in April. By invitation from the Lao Department of Intellectual Property, INTA brought members from Thailand and Singapore to speak about brand and trademark development and protection.
Director General of the Lao Department of IP, Dr. Khanlasy Keobounphanh, opened the IP Fair and discussed the progress in Lao PDR on the IP rights front. Lao just joined the Madrid Protocol at the end of 2015 and also joined the WTO in 2013. The country is required to implement the TRIPS Agreement, but was given an extension as an LDC until 2021.
INTA members formed a panel entitled Trademark Development and Protection for SMEs. I introduced our speakers and explained why it is so important for SMEs to learn about international trademark development and protection, citing figures that clearly show an increase in international trade for Lao PDR and that exports have increased dramatically in recent years to over USD 3 billion in 2014 (source: Harvard University Center for Development Economics), mostly to neighboring countries: China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The equation is simple: more international trade equals more need to protect trademarks internationally.
Mr. Louis Chan (P&G, Singapore) and Trademark Office Practices Committee (TOPC) Asia-Pacific Subcommittee Chair spoke on brand development, and Ms. Sukontip Jitmongkolthong (Tilleke & Gibbins, Thailand) spoke on brand protection in Thailand, Vietnam, and Lao.
The INTA panel was quite a success, and the question-and-answer session ran well into overtime, as audience members peppered our speakers with questions. It was clear there was a demand to know more about trademark protection and development.
The IP Fair performed a great function, highlighting the various creative industries in Lao. On display were local inventions, such as a low-cost water filtration system. Also, a group that commissions and distributes children’s books showcased its wares.
Traditional Lao crafts were also on display, such as the beautiful silk skirts or sinhs.
INTA members speak out
As part of INTA’s engagement in Lao PDR, I took some time to interview our local members about the Lao trademark community. Below is an excerpt from the interview with one of our longest-serving member firms in the country, Mr. Moune Simoungkhot, of Lao Interconsult (LICO):
How long have you been an INTA member?
Since March 2004.
How did you come to do trademark/IP work?
A group of my friends who work in the IP Department, Ministry of Science and Technology, brought me into this line of work.
What are your favorite local Lao brands and trademarks?
The well-known Lao brands such as Tiger Head natural water, Sinouk Coffee, Dao Coffee, Joma Bakery, BanKern Corn Milk, etc.
Lao PDR joined the WTO in 2013 and is part of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community. Do you see more international trademark work coming to Lao PDR as a result?
The number of trademark applications has increased from five years ago: 2566 applications in 2013, 2874 applications in 2014, and 2834 applications in 2015.
Are Lao companies also registering their marks outside of Lao PDR, and where are they registering?
Yes, but very few. Mostly the Lao companies registered in Thailand, Vietnam, China, and the countries where they export their products.
How do you think INTA can help support the development of Lao PDR trademark community and Lao companies to strengthen their brands and trademarks?
We have six recommendations:
- Training Programs: Create educational and training activities in order to increase professional skills and the effective management competency of officers from the IPO and Enforcement Agencies and provide companies with a basic understanding of IP laws and relevant information. Development of training programs can be carried out by educational and training activities in order to increase professional skills and effective management competency of officers from the IPO and Enforcement Agencies for the basic understanding of IP laws and relevant information. For higher authorities such as policy makers, study visit programs are essential tools that will teach them how IP benefits other countries.
- Public Awareness: You may be aware that people of developing or least developed countries are still poor, but their hobbies and interests are very similar to people from developed countries. Some are not aware that counterfeit products can be harmful to the economic development of a country and can affect foreign investment, technology transfer, and incentives for innovation and creation.The promotion of public awareness could be undertaken by different events such as setting up a curriculum of intellectual property for different levels of the national education system and organizing an outreach program for various sectors of society, such as through concerts, innovation contests, etc.
- Relationship between IPO and Users: One effective part of IP, to some extent, depends on close contact and constant dialogue between the IPO and its users, or owners of intellectual property, to exchange information on how to battle against infringement. Users could help the IPO develop a highly visible campaign on public education.
- Litigation Systems: Reforms in prosecutorial agencies and the judiciary, as well as continued training for those involved in investigation, prosecution, and disposition of violation cases will undoubtedly result in addressing the problem of case backlogs and quality of actions rendered.
- Exchange of Information: Eemergence of a new global economy, fueled by rapid development in technology and worldwide communication systems, has brought intellectual property into the mainstream of economic, social, cultural, and technological policies in many countries. The Internet connects all nations tightly and integrates the global economy into a network economy. Therefore, the exchange of information needs to occur among all stakeholders, including IPOs and enforcement agencies.
- Regional and International Cooperation: Cooperation among countries in the region, as well as cooperation with WIPO and other international NGOs, will be desirable for the exchange of experiences and best practices in the fight against counterfeiting. We also need closer coordination and cooperation among customs officials to prevent the free circulation of counterfeit or pirated goods in the region.