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|Nguyen Van Loi, former judge of the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam|
Vietnam last month signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), marking a new era for numerous trading opportunities. The RCEP consists of 20 chapters with principles and areas including intellectual property (IP). Free trade agreements (FTAs) like the RCEP, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and EU-Vietnam FTA, offer prospects in numerous areas for Vietnam.
However, these FTAs also push Vietnam to tighten up its IP protection laws, and Vietnamese firms have been warned to be more cautious about IP rights to ensure high standard operations and sustainability.
Having joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007, Vietnam has had to meet the minimum IP standards set out by the WTO. In August 2019, the Vietnamese government also issued the National Intellectual Property Strategy with a vision to 2030. This is the first time that Vietnam has done something like a national strategy, serving as a guideline for sectors, state agencies, and ministries to adopt IP rights.
A new decree which came into effect in October has brought clarity and stronger administrative sanctions when dealing with violations involving infringements and counterfeits both online and offline.
However, being composed of changing laws and being a prolific global manufacturing hub, Vietnam has faced a challenging arena for IP rights enforcement. Every organisation is attempting to build their own brand reputation with an aim to create a unique identity not to confuse with other brands. However, it is difficult for all businesses to create a sustainable strong brand and position it powerfully in the customers’ minds as it requires a commitment of serious investment in method and money.
Meanwhile, many local businesses do not pay much attention to this issue and hence have engaged themselves in IP violations. As a result, many trademark infringements still take place in Vietnam. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, IP infringements in Vietnam including trademarks have prevalently occurred with subtle tricks, and are difficult to control.
The dispute between trademark and copyright law firm WINCOLAW, consultants INCOLAW, and INCOLAW Law Co., Ltd. is a recent example. WINCOLAW, established in 2002, has been issued and protected by the National Office of Intellectual Property of Vietnam since 2005 for the trademark “WINCOLAW and image” under the Certificate of Trademark Registration No.60668.
WINCOLAW believes that the two INCOLAW companies have taken advantage of its brand by using the ‘INCOLAW’ component in their trade name, online sites, advertising materials, and all related operations and services. Thus, WINCOLAW filed a lawsuit to the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court requesting these firms to stop the alleged illegal use of ‘INCOLAW’, seeking financial compensation up to $1.5 million.
The challenge has been illustrated for the Vietnamese government to keep its commitment to reinforce and protect its IP laws following international standards.
Nevertheless, the organisations’ perception of the IP rights in both on- and offline spheres is a barrier for the government as on average, the individuals’ perception of IP rights is still limited, especially with e-commerce. It is difficult for the state to handle IP related issues in e-commerce as the information given online might be fake. That is one of the loopholes that the Vietnamese government has been striving to eliminate.
During the past few years, Vietnam has actively joined FTAs with strict guidelines on intellectual property. This has enhanced IP protection following international standards.
The agreements consist of principles regarding the clarification of the IP laws by posting the regulations on the internet, forming sophisticated procedures of implementing IP rights, publishing the registration forms, and so on. The government can raise awareness of the legal guidelines by warning with examples of the legal procedures to handle IP rights violations.
The FTAs also entail the requirement to control the border actively to prevent counterfeits and violation of IP rights. Consequently, this helps boost the quality of goods and protect IP rights but also places pressure on genuine organisations. The law will be applied with the supervision of the government and constantly scrutinised to improve efficiency as well as refine the implementation process.
On the other hand, the responsibility also lies with companies to equip themselves with the knowledge of IP rights and understand how important it is to register their IP to protect their service, products, and trademark. The legal knowledge will also prevent companies from violating IP rights without being aware of the incident. All things considered, the protection of IP rights plays a significant role in the development of the domestic business market with a secured environment for organisations to thrive and promote the integration of Vietnam in the international market.