Laos Struggling with Trademark Protection
According to a study by the Intellectual Property (IP) Department of the Ministry of Science and Technology, only about 40,500 trademark applications have been filed in the Southeast Asian country since 1991. This is a relatively low number of applications for trademark protections for a country of 7 million and an economy with a GDP of $37.3 billion.
Laos is plagued by the general lack of understanding of the concept of intellectual property, as well as the importance of protecting unique identifiers such as titles, logos, and labels. According to Khanlasy Keobounphanh, the director general of the IP Department, Laos is undertaking a public awareness campaign to increase knowledge about IP protections, as well as encourage registration for trademark protection.
Aside from general lack of understanding of trademark protection, many businesses may not be able to obtain trademark protection due to the nature of Laos’ government and judicial system. Laos has been under Communist control since 1975, and its government is plagued with inefficiency and corruption. This has led to a culture of corruption, bribery, and general public discontent and distrust of the government. A judiciary that is incapable of or unwilling to enforce property rights deters people from attempting to obtain those rights; this could be a factor in the low number of trademark applications.
There are signs of improvement for Laos however. In 2013, Laos became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Membership in the WTO comes with basic intellectual property rules that Laos must now comply with and will strengthen the weak domestic rules. Further, Keobounphanh noted that the IP Department has completed a strategic vision to 2025 and is working to strengthen the country’s Law on Intellectual Property. While IP protection has been weak in the country, there is hope for improvement.
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