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Myanmar's IPR laws near completion

Publication Date : 31-07-2014


Though Myanmar has reopened its door to the world for two years, many famous international brands, franchises, cars and product lines remain absent.

Fingers have been pointing to the absence of a modern framework for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) as a deterent to foreign investment, but Myanmar is accelerating its drive to ensure the enactment of new laws that comply with international standards.

Ba Shwe, deputy minister for science and technology, said yesterday that the Ministry of Science and Technology is finalising a draft set of intellectual property (IP) laws in close consultation with foreign experts.

In his response to MP Saw Maw Tun’s query on the progress of the laws, he told Parliament yesterday that the ministry is working with IP organisations from Asean, Japan and South Korea on the draft laws. This is on top of a series of talks on the issue. He insisted that the ministry is giving priority to the enactment of the IP-related laws.

“The laws are aimed at ensuring economic development of the country and protection to local and foreign innovators and IP rights owners. We’re making progress in enacting the laws,” said Ba Shwe.

The ministry submitted IP rights law, and Industrial IP law and copyright law to the Union Attorney-General Office last month. Once the office finishes the screening, the ministry will amend the laws accordingly. Then, the drafts will be forwarded to Parliament.

“Now, we are applying the Indian laws. We need to enact our own IP laws as quickly as possible,” said MP Saw Maw Tun, referring to the legal framework used under British colonial rule when the same set of laws applied to India and Myanmar.

“My concern is how to ensure safety of medicine, food, goods and services for consumers, while protect local and foreign investors as well as programmers in accordance with the law,” he added.

There is little recognition of foreign companies’ trademarks, patents and copyrights in Myanmar at present. Without the laws, patents and industrial designs are still governed by the India Patents and Design Law of 1911. They are also subjected to a wide range of domestic laws, including:

- Myanmar Penal Code (1861)
- The Specific Relief Act (1877)
- The Sea Customs Act (1878)
- The Registration Act (1909)
- Foreign Investment Law
- Citizen Investment Law (1989)
-  Television and Video Law
- Computer Science Development Law
- Merchandise Marks Act
- Land Customs Act
- Computer Science Development Law

Myanmar is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and also a member of the World Trade Organisation and a signatory to the TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).
Only a few multinational companies have made their presence felt in the country, due to poor IPR protection. In a country of 60 million, there are only about 1,000 computer programmers, according to the Software Industry Development Committee.

Realising the necessity of such laws, Myanmar started the process of drafting the laws addressing patent, copyright and trademark issues in 2004 to bring the country into compliance with the TRIPS Agreement.

From an article on its website, US law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman remained optimistic that the laws would be enacted soon.

In the absence of such laws, “implementation of a strategy for protective measures should be at the top of the list of actions for companies considering entry into this opening market”.

“There is a reason to hope that IP protections may be addressed by new legislation as the economy opens, although there are no specific plans at present,” the article said.

According to WIPO, Myanmar’s ranking in terms of patent, copyrights, and trademarks applications is low. In 2013, from total 205,300 applications, 57,239 were from companies based in the United States. Japan, China, Germany and South Korea followed.

There was no such information for Myanmar in 2013. During 1998-2012, there was only one application filed for industrial design registrations, according to WIPO. The registration in 2007 was completed outside Myanmar. During the period, only two patents were granted – both to overseas proprietors.

On trademark registrations, domestic proprietors accounted for 4,422 in 2012 against 4,068 overseas proprietors. Activities started to quicken in 2011.

According to a recent article in Inside Counsel, a publication for international legal professionals, Nay Pyi Taw has realised that without modern IPR laws it stands little chance of being granted trade priveleges under the United States’ generalised system of preferences.

 “Once enacted, though, implementing regulations should follow shortly, and the entire subject should be clarified for foreign copyright owners under the country’s 2012 Foreign Investment Law. Myanmar has come a long way to becoming again a full member of the international community. IPR protection is an essential element of that effort, and Myanmar will hopefully cross that threshold later this year,” wrote Eric Rose, the lead director of Herzfeld Rubin Meyer & Rose, the first US law firm in Myanmar.


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