Vietnamese enterprises struggle to protect trademarks

By Ha Truong, Quynh Huong   August 1, 2019 | 12:38 am PT
In this era of economic integration, protecting trademarks means protecting the business, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman says.

Que Huong is a coconut candy production business established by Pham Thi To in 1976. It is now called the East Asia Integrated Manufacturer Limited Liability Company. In 1998 its revenues dropped sharply, especially from exports. To discovered that a Chinese company called Rung Dua had stolen her trademark and sold products in the market. It even registered the Ben Tre coconut candy brand in China.

Que Huong, a Vietnamese coconut candy production business, won trademark rights in a dispute with a Chinese company.

Que Huong, a Vietnamese coconut candy production business, won trademark rights in a dispute with a Chinese company.

To sued Rung Dua and finally won the case. Her company also received the exclusive right to the trademark, and was allowed to sell its products in China. Rung Dua was recognized as a fraud and it later closed down.

In September 2011 Vietnamese coffee companies were agitated to find out Dak Lak Province’s Buon Ma Thuot coffee was registered for protection in China for 10 years.

China's Guangzhou Buon Ma Thuot Coffee Co. Ltd got the exclusive right to use 'Buon Ma Thuot' in Chinese characters and 'Buon Ma Thuot Coffee 1896' along with a logo in November that year.

It took a huge effort by Vietnamese enterprises in 2014 to wrest back the Buon Ma Thuot coffee trademark from Guangzhou Buon Ma Thuot Coffee. Ltd.

They were helped by the fact that Buon Ma Thuot is a province in Vietnam and is registered and protected as the origin of coffee products in Vietnam.

These cases are just two of many in which Vietnamese trademarks have been lost. The two companies were able to win back their trademarks because they were registered and protected in Vietnam.

For years many Vietnamese enterprises have been struggling and spending a lot of money to reclaim geographical indications and brand names such as Phu Quoc (fish sauce), Trung Nguyen (coffee), Duy Loi (hammock), Bi’tis (footwear), Sa Giang (prawn crackers), and Vinataba (cigarettes).

Experts highlighted these stories at an event on protection of industrial designs and trademarks for Vietnamese enterprises in Hanoi in early July.

They said it is common and easy for Vietnamese trademarks to be stolen in the international market since there is not enough awareness and action for intellectual property protection.

The Ministry of Science and Technology's intellectual property department said 108,374 industrial property applications were submitted last year including 63,617 for patents. It has considered 79,634 of them, granting protection to 29,040 patents. As of the end of last year Vietnam protected 69 national geographical indications and six foreign ones.

Vu Tien Loc, chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), said the figures demonstrate the better awareness of Vietnamese enterprises. 

The protection of industrial designs plays an important role in marketing, and helps establish the brand image of an enterprise, he said. "This could help the enterprise earn an additional income from franchising."

The VCCI said in recent years Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to this issue by participating in various treaties such as the Paris Convention, Rome Convention, Berne Convention, and Stockholm Convention.

In the age of digital economics and intelligent economics, complying with intellectual property laws, especially those related to industrial designs and trademarks, is necessary. It is also a subject mentioned in many free trade agreements.

In addition to obeying international intellectual property laws, Vietnamese businesses also need to respect the rights of other enterprises and take care of their own intellectual property rights.

Experts from the World Intellectual  Property Organization (WIPO) said that Vietnamese businesses could protect their brands, logos and product names when expanding abroad by using WIPO's Madrid system to register international trademarks.

Besides, enterprises could use online tools to estimate costs and look up databases of international brands to save time and cost, they added.

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