Online IP Infringement in South-East Asia: How to protect your business

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The South-East Asian internet economy has witnessed a striking increase

According to the latest report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, the number of internet users in South-East Asia (SEA) has increased rapidly, reaching 360 million in 2019 — 100 million more than in 2015. Powered by rapid adoption and changing consumer preferences, the South-East Asian internet economy has leapt nearly 40 % from last year to exceed USD 100 billion, and is on track to hit USD 300 billion in 2025. The region has seen booming development, especially in the e-commerce sector. In 2015, 49 million people bought or sold items online. Today, that number has tripled to 150 million.[1]

Photo source: https://pixabay.com

Photo source: https://pixabay.com

The internet is fueling a dramatic rise in counterfeit and pirated products

It is obvious that the internet has brought enormous opportunities for companies, especially Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to develop and expand their business internationally. However, on the other hand, digitalisation also creates fertile ground for online intellectual property (IP) infringement, such as counterfeiting products, pirated goods, cybersquatting, stolen trade secrets, etc. As a result, it has caused various negative impacts on the sales, profits and reputations of affected companies as well as having broader adverse effects on the economy and public health, safety and security.

‘The Economic Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy’ report from Frontier Economics pointed out that the estimated value of total counterfeit and pirated goods in the world was USD 923 billion – 1.13 trillion in 2013 and is forecasted to reach an astounding USD 1.90 – 2.81 trillion in 2022.[2]

As it is now easier for everyone to buy and sell goods online, fake and pirated products are booming in SEA, across various e-commerce platforms, social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) and a number of local websites. Consumers are offered a wide variety of counterfeit and pirated products. These items can be labelled with a counterfeited trade mark or just replicate the appearance of the original goods, and they are sold at any price-scale. Products majorly exposed to online counterfeiting are fashion retail, electronics, perfume and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, baby products, alcohol and automotive.[3] The origin of the fake products being sold in SEA varies, they can be produced locally or imported from  other countries notorious for manufacturing counterfeits, such as China, India and Turkey.

Online counterfeit and pirated goods have caused serious damage to the sales and profits of IP owners, jeopardised brand reputations and rendered the consumer less interested in authentic products. Vendors often use pictures of the original goods to attract consumers and then provide a counterfeit product. Ultimately, customers start to lose interest in affected brands.

An even more serious concern is connected with the use of fake products in the pharmaceutical, chemical, foods and beverages sectors. These products are not subject to controls like the original ones, and can seriously affect the consumers’ health.

How to combat online infringement

Online IP infringement is growing exponentially in SEA, for many reasons. IP rights are territorial, however online IP infringement is borderless. ‘While there is a degree of harmonization of the laws and regulations governing IP rights and their enforcement, these are not unified. Varying laws and practices in different jurisdictions make it difficult to navigate the legal landscape, fuelling legal uncertainty about outcomes.’[4] In any jurisdiction, the internet itself makes it harder to track down infringers effectively and stop them, but it is particularly difficult in SEA. The effectiveness of IP enforcement in the region is still a major concern. As a result, online trading is quickly becoming more and more attractive for IP infringers as they are less likely to be caught in SEA. In addition, although laws and regulations in South-East Asian countries generally prohibit the sale of counterfeit and pirated products, they do not specifically deter the sale of these products online. There is a lack of effective laws against online IP infringement, and the authorities have little experience in dealing with it.

The majority of the online trade in counterfeit products and pirated goods is at the retail scale, it means there is a huge number of infringers that companies must monitor in order to combat them. The internet makes it easy for anyone to set up a new online business. This means that even if  the culprits agree to stop their infringing actions after receiving a warning from the IP owner, e-commerce operators or enforcement authorities, it is still possible that they will quickly set up a new shop to continue with the illegal selling.

However, taking no action is inadvisable for companies seeking to safeguard their business in SEA. If your products have been infringed and sold in various places, a ‘no actions’ strategy will have a negative impact on your global business and jeoparadise your reputation.

To protect IP effectively, a company should build up a proactive and multi-faceted strategy to act swiftly and effectively against online infringers. The following options can be considered.

  • Actively monitor the online marketplace, and shopping and social media platforms, to identify infringement: Companies can do this by themselves or hire service companies with expertise in the field. In addition, today there are many advanced technological tools for searching and detecting sources of IP violation.
  • Conduct an investigation and gather facts: Don’t make a groundless claim, it will cost you both time and money. Once you have found a suspected infringement on the internet, the first step is to collect evidence on the infringer, e.g. basic information (name, address, other contact details, the scale of their business and the origin of their products).
  • Take-down Notices and Warning Letters: The majority of online infringers in SEA are small businesses, therefore sending a Warning Letter to online infringers has often proved to be a time- and cost-effective option. Also, submitting a Take-down Notice and Infringement Complaint to the e-commerce platform and social media operators can be another effective approach. Read and understand the IP policy against online infringment of each platform so that you can provide the appropriate information and documents as required to ensure the take-down is fast and effective.
  • Work with local enforcement agencies: Companies should be well prepared, with at least a basic understanding of the enforcement agencies available in each country in SEA and of how companies are eligible to use the enforcement options in the jurisdiction. It is worth noting that to enforce your rights in SEA, you are usually required to register your IP with the IP office of the country where you seek enforcement. Raid actions to seize infringing products, filing a claim to a court, or using customs to block counterfeit and pirated goods are also enforcement options that companies may consider in specific cases.
  • Seek advice from local experts: There are still many differences between IP laws and practices between the EU and SEA, and even within SEA inconsistencies abound. As many of the counterfeit and pirated products for sale are advertised in local languages or posted on local websites, monitoring by detection software or searching tools (usually in Roman characters) doesn’t work effectively. Therefore, companies should always seek advice from local experts who are familiar with local cases of infringement and who have close relations with enforcement bodies such as the courts, police and customs authorities.

SEA is a promising destination to expand your business in. However, there are still major concerns there relating to IP protection, especially in the digital era. European companies should be aware of the risks and prepare their IP strategy before going abroad. A proactive and well-prepared IP protection programme will secure sustainable business growth in SEA.

By Xuan Nguyen – Project Officer, South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdek

[1] e-Conomy SEA 2019: https://www.bain.com/insights/e-conomy-sea-2019/

[2] ‘The Economic Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy’ by Frontier Economics: https://www.inta.org/Communications/Documents/2017_Frontier_Report.pdf

[3] Industries exposed to online counterfeiting: https://www.group-ib.com/brandprotection/anticounterfeiting.html

[4] ‘IP Infringement Online: the dark side of digital’: https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2011/02/article_0007.html

 

EUIPO: New Image Recognition Technology in Design and Trade Mark Search

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The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has implemented a new  artificial intelligence solution to allows its users to carry out image-based searches for designs and trade marks, with new algorithms both in eSearch Plus and TMView.

In the advanced search function of eSearch Plus, the new algorithms can make Locarno and Vienna class suggestions based on uploaded images, thus making searches for trade marks and designs easier. Users can upload up to seven view images of a design to see if anything similar is already registered at the EUIPO. This service is free of charge, supporting users before filing and afterwards, for monitoring purposes.

More details about the new AI solution and image-based searches are available at the EUIPO website.

Using the Madrid System to register your trade mark in Malaysia

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On 27 September 2019, Malaysia became the 106th member of the Madrid system upon depositing its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The protocol will enter into force in Malaysia on 27 December 2019, extending the Madrid System to cover 122 countries. With the addition of Malaysia, all the countries in the South-East Asian region, except Myanmar, are now members of the Madrid System.

After the protocol comes into force, foreign companies will have two options for registering their trade marks in Malaysia, i.e. filing a trade mark application directly with Malaysia’s IP office, or filing an international trade mark application with the IP office of their home country and selecting Malaysia as one of the designated countries. Before you decide which option is more convenient for you, we would like to provide an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the Madrid System.

What is the Madrid System?

The Madrid System, administered by WIPO, is a convenient and cost-effective solution for registering and managing trade marks worldwide. The system allows brand owners to protect their trade marks in up to 122 countries by filing one application, using one language (English, French or Spanish) and paying one set of fees.

Under the Madrid System, you need to submit an international trade mark application with the office of the home country in which refers to the national application or registration in respect of the same trade mark and select the countries where you want to register your trade mark as designated countries. After receiving the international trade mark application, your office of origin will check, certify, and then submit it to WIPO. WIPO will examine your international application in term of formalities (e.g. the applicant’s name and address, the quality of the image of mark, the classification of goods/services according to the Nice Agreement, application fees, etc.). If your application meets all the formal requirements, WIPO will record the mark in the International Register, publish it in the WIPO Gazette of International Marks and notify all the IP offices in the designated countries so that these offices can begin the substantive examination of the application at a national level in their jurisdictions. A result concerning the protection or refusal of the trade mark will be made within the time limit of 12 months or 18 months (for certain countries).

Advantages

  • Centralised and simplified registration and management system

To have your trade mark protected in multiple countries, instead of going to each country to file your trade mark application, when using the Madrid System the applicant just needs to file one international trade mark application to the office of origin, using one language and paying a single set of fees. Any amendment, such as changes (name, address, ownership, etc.), cancellation or licenses can be recorded in the International Register by simply submitting one request. Likewise, when the trade mark registration is due for renewal, the trade mark holder can renew it with WIPO in respect of all the designated countries or only some of them.

Overall, the Madrid System enables the brand owners to register and manage their trade mark portfolio in multiple countries via a simplified and convenient system.

  • Cost-effective and time-saving

By filing only one application rather than various applications in various countries, the applicant can save time and money. For example, it is not necessary to pay for translations of the documents or local agent fees which are normally incurred if an application is filed directly with the IP offices of the target countries. In many countries, the examination of trade mark applications at the national level can take up to 4 years due to backlogs. Under the Madrid system, however, the designated offices have to decide within 12 months or 18 months.

  • Subsequent designation

The Madrid System allows trade mark holders to designate additional countries alongside their existing trade mark registration. This subsequent designation procedure is very beneficial to brand owners who want to expand their business scope to new markets as they do not need to file separate applications in the new target countries.

  • Global system

With the Madrid System, you can register and manage your trade marks in up to 122 countries, representing over 80% of world trade.

Disadvantages

  • Central attack

Under the Madrid System, international registration remains dependent on the  basic application/registration in the country of origin for a period of 5 years from the date of its registration. Therefore, if the national application is rejected or withdrawn, or if the the national registration is canceled during this period, the international registration will no longer be protected unless within 3 months of the cancellation, the holder files trade mark applications for registration with the offices in each of the designated countries.

  • Refusal by national office

Laws and practices differ from country to country. It is still possible that you receive a refusal decision from some of the designated countries. In this case, the holder cannot communicate through the International Bureau but has to directly respond to and work with the national offices where the protection is rejected. In some countries, it is mandatory to use a representative agency to respond to the national office. Refusals may be avoided if, before filing, the trade mark holder identifies the countries in which rejection is likely and consults a local lawyer with expertise on the topic in order to develop a registration strategy.

Summary

Thanks to its centralised and simplified registration and management procedures, the Madrid System is a convenient solution for brand owners to protect their trade marks when doing business internationally. Nevertheless, brand owners should consult with local lawyers to develop trade mark registration strategies in certain countries where there is a high possibility of refusal by the national office.

Trademark Law Revision in China: analysis of the new provisions

On 23 April 2019 the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the fourth revision of the Trademark Law, which came into force on November 1st. This has attracted much attention from the international IP community as it addresses the issue of bad-faith registrations – one of the most significant challenges to protecting international brands in China.

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The new law provides that bad-faith applications made with no intent to use will be rejected. In addition, the absence of requisite intent to use is now included as grounds for opposition and invalidation proceedings.

Moreover, the law allows for a higher amount of damages that can be claimed for trademark infringement; likewise, the highest amount of statutory damages was increased from RMB 3 million to RMB 5 million in an attempt to deter infringements.

The revision also establishes new guidelines for the Trial of Cases on Trademark Authorisation and Affirmation, as well as new articles on the legal liability of applicants of bad-faith application without intent to use.

For the full analysis on the recent revision, read the full article by Charles Feng at Lexology.

WIPO Launches New Publication Series; China is First Contributor

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The World Intellectual Property Organization has published the first edition in a new publication series collecting landmark intellectual property (IP) judgments from some of the most dynamic litigation jurisdictions around the world.

The “WIPO Collection of Leading Judgments on Intellectual Property” series aims to illustrate IP adjudication approaches and trends, by jurisdiction or theme in each volume.

The first title is a joint publication with the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of the People’s Republic of China. It features 30 representative judgments rendered by the SPC between 2011 and 2018, presented in both Chinese and English. These decisions, selected by the SPC, exemplify recent judicial adjudication in the areas of copyright, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, new plant varieties, integrated circuit layout designs, monopoly and competition, and criminal enforcement of IP rights.

The publication is part of WIPO’s efforts in the area of the judicial administration of IP, led by the WIPO Judicial Institute, to engage judges from around the world as they share experiences on the common challenges they face and discuss new subject matters and concepts.

Continue reading on the WIPO’s website.