IP exploitation strategy in South-East Asia

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Written by Marta Bettinazzi

In these changing times, we all need to find the time to prepare for the future and draft our strategy for success. This should also mean reevaluating our resources to see if we can make better use of them.

A good shift of perspective is to stop considering your intellectual property (IP) only as a cost (registration, maintenance). IP is an asset and you should learn how to make the best out of it. We will briefly look at the options that exist for exploiting intellectual property rights (IPR), then examine both the risks and the best practices to put into place in South-East Asia (SEA).

The best way to exploit your IPR depends on the kind of IP you own, but it can be summarised in two big categories: licensing and selling.man-sitting-near-fruits-723991

Selling means that you permanently transfer your IP (or better, the economic rights connected to it) to someone else. For example, you sell your patent to a bigger company that can mass-produce the invention you have patented or, more commonly, your IP is purchased as part of a merger-and-acquisition operation. In this case one company would acquire all the IPR that were part of your assets (trade marks, copyrights, patents, etc.). A famous example is the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook for the unimaginable price of USD 21 billion (more info here).

Licensing means that you, as an IPR owner (licensor), authorise someone to use your rights (licensee) in exchange for an agreed payment (fee or royalty).

This can allow you to expand your global presence and also ensure a source of revenue. On the other hand, the licensee can manufacture, sell, import, export, distribute and market various goods or services that they may otherwise not have had the rights to.

We can group the license agreements in three categories: Technology License Agreement; Trademark Licensing (and Franchising) Agreement; Copyright License Agreement.

Often these kinds of agreements are combined with and/or included in broader contractual settings, for example distribution contracts.

Therefore, the first step in an effective IP strategy is to review the agreements you already have in place with your partners and distributors to be sure that they include clear rules regarding the use of your IP.

In SEA it’s not uncommon for local distributors to register the IP (usually the trade marks) of their international partners under their own name. This way the local company acquires de facto an exclusive license on the product(s) of the SMEs. In fact, if the local company is the owner of the trade mark, it can prevent others from using it, including other companies authorised by the SME (the original owner of the trade mark). It might be said that you are in a marriage with your partner, and you might need an expensive and lengthy divorce (judiciary decision) to be able to leave it.

Before entering any kind of distribution agreement, give special attention to the difference between the registration of the trade mark (and IP in general) and the registration of the product itself. The latter is an administrative step needed to import a ‘new’ product into a country, but it does not ensure any protection for your IPR.

In other words, if your distributor is offering to do the product registration to allow you to import goods into the country, this does not imply that he/she is also going to help you with the registration of the trade mark or patent (or any other IP).

Keep in mind that a formal licensing agreement is possible only if the IPR you wish to license is also protected in the country or countries of interest to you. Without registering your IP in the country, you are not only unable to properly license it, but you also have no legal right to put any restriction on its use by anyone else.

Despite provisions in international treaties, courts and administrative bodies in SEA seldom extend protection to well know trade marks (see, as a reference, the famous IKEA case in Indonesia). Only Malaysia and Singapore ensure some level of protection for de facto trade marks and take into account the use of a non-registered trade mark.

On a side note, do not forget to consider registering your trade mark in local scripts as well, for example in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. This ensures complete protection for your trade mark, limiting the possibility of cheaper copycats riding on your reputation by using a transliteration of your trade mark. pink-and-white-weighing-scale-3964619

Also, note that many countries in SEA require license agreements to be registered if they are to be enforced. Some countries, like Thailand, also require the registration of trade mark licenses, others, like Vietnam, only require the registration of technology transfers.

To recap, be sure to register your IP before entering into any agreements with local partners. If this is not possible in the immediate future at least include a clause in your agreements to prevent the local company from registering your IP ‘for you’.

Technology transfer agreements can be very remunerative, but can also put your business at risk — you could be creating your own, stronger competitor. Therefore, it is advisable to either license a technology you have patented in the country where your counterpart will operate or you license something (an idea, a technology, some know-how, a recipe, etc.) that is secret. In this case, you have to be sure that your partner is bound by the same level of secrecy.

Reality is not that simple. Even if something is patented (and therefore publicly disclosed, for example in Europe) local companies might not be advanced enough to copy it, and may be interested in entering an agreement with you to acquire the know-how surrounding the patent.

This might present itself as an unpredicted and very welcome source of revenue for you, but you are running the risk of your new partner becoming your competitor in the future.

A good way to balance this issue is to bind your partner to secrecy regarding the unpatented part of the technologies.

As mentioned, technology transfers are not always encouraged by legislation in SEA and can often be subject to registration requirements. This means that if the agreement is not registered at the public office it cannot be enforced (in cases of breach or liability). Some countries have also limitations regarding the kind of technologies that can be transferred to and from their territory.

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In short: the best strategy is always to patent all your cutting-edge technologies in as many countries as possible (including new markets like SEA); combine a good patent strategy with a high level of secrecy and be aware of local legislation.

A final thought: do not forget to prepare all your contractual documents in both English and the local language and be sure to agree and sign the local language version. Most of the courts in SEA can only accept (and understand) documents in the local language. A later translation could be not only expensive but also problematic; your counterpart could propose their own translation of the text, which could lead to endless interpretation problems.

For more information you can have a look at our guides on trade marks, patents and technology transfers, or at our country factsheets.

Do not hesitate to reach out to the Helpdesk if you have any questions on IP in SEA.

Marta Bettinazzi

IP Business Advisor

South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk

E: marta.bettinazzi@southeastasia-iprhelpdesk.eu

W: www.southeastasia-iprhelpdesk.eu

 

IP Protection in the Philippines for the Environmental Technologies Industry

MC900437625In today’s blog post we take a closer look at how European SMEs can protect the IP rights of their environmental technologies in the Philippines. This sector has recently started to boom and offers many promising business opportunities to European SMEs. You will hear more about patent protection and trade mark protection. We will also offer some tips on how to enforce your rights. 

European SMEs that are working on high-tech sustainable solutions for environmental problems find the Philippines quite a promising market. The country that is highly vulnerable to climate change faces many environmental challenges including deforestation, costal degradation, air and water pollution as well as issues arising from waste disposal, just to mention the few most pressing issues. At the same time, the government of the Philippines is committed to looking for solutions, including sustainable high-tech solutions to the most pressing environmental issues, as it is annually allocating over 16 million EUR for climate change adaptation and mitigation funding[1].

European SMEs offering technological solutions to energy efficiency issues, environmentally sustainable transportation, sustainable infrastructure or waste management sectors, are expected to find many promising business opportunities in the Philippines, as these are the sectors that the government of the Philippines is highlighting as the priority sectors in its National Framework Strategy on Climate Change 2010-2022.[2]

European environmental technology providers wishing to enter the Philippines’ market need to keep in mind that despite the recent improvements in the Philippines’ IP laws and regulations, counterfeiting and other IP infringements are still commonplace in the country and thus a robust IP strategy is needed to grow their business in the Philippines. Continue reading “IP Protection in the Philippines for the Environmental Technologies Industry” »

IP Protection in Malaysia for the Medical Device and Healthcare Industries

insurance-1991276_1920In today’s blog post we are taking a closer look at IP protection in the medical device and healthcare industries in Malaysia. You will learn more about the importance of patents in medical device industry and the various patents that can be applied in Malaysia as well as about the importance of brand protection. 

As one of the main pillars of Malaysia’s economy, supported by numerous governmental initiatives, medical device and healthcare industry is growing fast in Malaysia, making the country one of the top destinations for medical tourism. Healthcare industry in Malaysia is expected to grow close to 30% per year up to 2020[1] and as Malaysian government is creating various incentives for foreign investments, this sector is expected to offer many promising business opportunities for European SMEs.

Malaysia has a large ageing population with rising disposable income and European SMEs can find business opportunities in many sectors including elderly care. As digitalization is still one of the challenges in Malaysia’s medical device and healthcare sector and since the government is encouraging the implementation of the E-Health Strategy, European high-tech solutions are much welcome in Malaysia. Furthermore, as Malaysia’s population is becoming increasingly affluent, consumers pay a lot of attention to wellness and disease preventions, meaning that there is growing market for medical devices that are used to self-monitor one’s health condition like blood glucose and pressure monitors[2].

European SMEs wishing to do business in Malaysia’s healthcare and medical device sector should pay attention to protecting their intellectual property rights, because even though Malaysia’s IP regulations have improved over the past years, counterfeiting and other IP violations are still commonplace in the country. At the same time, neglecting to protect IP rights can often quickly end European SMEs’ business endeavors in South-East Asia. Continue reading “IP Protection in Malaysia for the Medical Device and Healthcare Industries” »

IP Considerations for the Manufacturing Industry in South-East Asia

cool20080814_015In today’s blog post we are looking into how to protect IP in the manufacturing industry in South-East Asia, which is currently offering many opportunities for the European SMEs. You’ll learn more about patent protection and industrial design protection, but also about brand protection, as your brand is equally important to your patent. 

Manufacturing is one of the key drivers of growth in South-East Asia, with more and more South-East Asian countries winning manufacturers over from China due to lower labour costs, rising domestic consumption and improving infrastructure. Well-known brands such as Coca-Cola and Coach have so far established plants in Myanmar and Vietnam, leveraging on the cheap labour market and growing domestic demand in these countries. In Cambodia, the textiles and footwear manufacturing industry alone generates approximately EUR 5 billion annually for the economy.

In the coming years, it is expected that the manufacturing industry in South-East Asia will continue to stay strong and even expand further. The expansion of the working-age population in South-East Asia will help to boost the manufacturing sector of these countries and keep the labour costs low. The transfer of technology into South-East Asia over time will also serve to increase the efficiency of countries in this region. As such, South-East Asia offers vast opportunities for EU SMEs that are looking to expand their presence in the region. In so doing, however, EU SMEs should be aware of the intellectual property risks that they will face when operating in this region, with respect to the advanced technology that may be transferred to this region as part of the collaboration and joint venture with SME’s local partners.
Continue reading “IP Considerations for the Manufacturing Industry in South-East Asia” »

Writing a Good Manufacturing Non-disclosure Agreement in China

MP900438585In today’s blog post we are discussing how to protect IP when seeking Chinese manufacturers and will address what it takes to design an NNN (non-use, non-disclosure, and non-circumvention agreements) which can pose enough of a credible threat to dissuade contract violations.

Defining protected information: keeping everyone on the same page

NNN agreements should clearly define which rights are being disclosed or licensed, their nature, and their scope. Clear mechanisms for identifying and marking, accounting for, and maintaining secrecy for this information (or indications of who will bear these responsibilities, what general types of information should be considered confidential, or processes for retroactively marking material as confidential) should be present. If desired, additional clauses can also outline what types of information will not be considered confidential. Naturally, before these types of information can be identified, an SME should first understand just what its trade secrets are. Conducting an IP assessment and audit can identify key IP which was otherwise taken for granted or not fully appreciated by the SME and can assign a value to the IP which will make calculating contract damages much easier.

While the contract is in force, these rules should be strictly followed. Over the course of the contract, additional IP may be generated as a result of the work of employees or independent innovations on the part of the manufacturer. NNN agreements can also include clauses which dictate that all such IP belongs to the SME and can thereby avoid future disputes. Note, however, that China places restrictions on the export of some technology—meaning that agreements automatically granting new IP to the SME could be struck down in court. Continue reading “Writing a Good Manufacturing Non-disclosure Agreement in China” »