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Intellectual Property Protection in Laos

IP rights are territorial in nature and registrations in Hong Kong are not automatically enforceable in another jurisdiction like Laos. Hong Kong companies doing business in Laos are advised to ensure their IP is protected through the Laotian IP system.

IP law is overseen by the Department of Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) (in Laos). In 2011, the National Assembly passed a comprehensive revision of the Law on Intellectual Property, thereby bringing the country’s IP laws into compliance with WIPO and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the lead up to Laos’ WTO accession in 2013.

While the tables below highlight the key points on the main IP rights (Patents, Designs, Trademarks and Copyright) in Laos, it should be noted that the Law on Intellectual Property also offers protection for trade secrets, plant varieties and layout of integrated circuits. All applications for registering IP can be filed in English but they must be translated into Laos within 90 days from the application filing date. Laotian IP law operates under the first-to-file principle, that is, if two people apply for an identical IP right, the first one to file the application will be awarded the right.

Overview of IP Rights in Laos

Industrial Designs

Scope

An industrial design protects a product’s special appearance (i.e. the combination of applied art and applied science of product).

Duration

The design is valid for an initial five years from the date of the registration being filed. The registration can be renewed every five years up to a maximum of 15 years, subject to the payment of annual fees.

Registration and Fees

Applications for an industrial design can be made directly to MOST. As Laos is party to the Paris Convention, an application can contain a claim for priority if suitable evidence is provided. The time frame from filing to granting date of a design application is about six to 12 months.

The fees are not specified in IP law but are about LAK 317,750 (about US$38) for registering an industrial design. In order to maintain the industrial design, an annual fee must be paid and this varies between LAK700,000 (about US$85) to LAK1.2 million (about US$145).

Patents

Scope

A patentable invention can be a product or a process that gives a new technical solution to a problem, a new method of doing things, the composition of a new product, or a technical improvement on how certain objects work.

Right-holders can apply for either a patent or a petty patent (utility model) and they must be able to demonstrate that the invention is new, an inventive step and has industrial application.

Duration

Protection lasts for 20 years from the date of filing for a patent and 10 years from the date of filing for a petty patent. Annual fees must be paid in order to maintain the terms of protection.

Registration and fees

Application for a patent can be made directly to MOST. The time from filing a registration to the granting of a patent or petty patent can be relatively long, taking about four to five years for patents, and two to three years for petty patents. While the fees are not specified in IP law, they are estimated at about LAK740,000 (about US$90) for the application process, with annual fees varying between LAK410,000 (about US$50) and LAK9 million (about US$1,100).

Laos is a member of the following international conventions regulating patents: Paris Convention, Patent Cooperation Treaty, ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation (ASPEC) and the Global Patent Prosecution Highway (GPPH). Time and resources could be saved by processing patent applications through these routes.

Trademarks and Geographical Indication (GIs)

Scope

A trademark protects signs, symbols, logos, words or sounds. A GI protects names or signs used on certain products which correspond to a specific location, where the quality or reputation of the goods is essentially attributable to its place of origin.

Duration

Trademarks are valid for 10 years from the initial filing date. Protection can be indefinite provided that the necessary renewal fees are paid after each 10-year period, and the mark is being used correctly.

There is no specific duration of protection of a GI, with the protection starting from the filing date.

Registration and Fees

Applications for a trademark can be either:

1. Made directly to MOST. The basic official fee for a trademark registration or renewal is LAK 1.1 million (about US$130).

2. The Madrid Protocol allows a single international application to be filed.

Laotian IP law also recognises the rights of owners of unregistered trademarks, and legal action can be taken for unregistered trademarks (although it is easier to initiate enforcement measures for a registered trademark).

Registration of a GI must be made directly to the Department of Intellectual Property. The fees to register a GI are unclear and the laws concerning GIs are mostly untested.

Copyright

Scope

Copyright protects works such as novels, computer programmes, plays, sheet music and paintings. Generally, the author of a copyright work has the right to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate and adapt his work.

Duration

The term for copyright protection varies with the nature of the work:

  • 50 years after the author’s death, covering literary, music and artistic works
  • 50 years from first publication, covering computer programmes, cinematographic and photographic works, databases and adaptations
  • 25 years from the date work is created, covering applied arts

Registration

Copyright is an automatic protection and there is no need to file for registration. However, a notification of rights can be voluntarily recorded with MOST for a minimal fee. In 2012 Laos became a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and consequently recognises copyright held by foreign nationals.

Enforcement of IP Rights

Enforcement of IP rights in Laos is generally weak. There are three main IP enforcement routes:

1. Dispute resolution
2. Civil litigation
3. Criminal enforcement

As IP officers in Laos are practically inexperienced, it is recommended that administrative remedies are used. Pursuing a legal remedy through the courts can be costly and time consuming. Generally, dispute resolution can be undertaken by submitting a complaint to the Department of Intellectual Property, which will then act as a mediator.

Currently, Laos has no formal customs recordation system. In the case of shipments suspected to contain counterfeit goods, the IP rights owner can inform Customs by submitting an application form seeking the latter to hold the suspected infringing goods. Customs’ holding period is up to 10 working days, and the rights owner must initiate judicial action within this timeframe – failure to do so will entitle Customs to release the goods immediately thereafter.

 

A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Laos

  1. Regulatory Environment
  2. Establishing a Presence
  3. Intellectual Property Protection
  4. Staff Recruitment
  5. Tax Considerations
  6. Import/Export Procedures
  7. Further Information


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Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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