Our trademark registration process is slow, and this needs to change
At a French supermarket in Mauritius, I came across a mango drink bottle that was almost identical to Pran Frooto, a leading Bangladeshi brand and export. The drink I saw in Mauritius was imported from the UAE. The bottling company was based in the UAE. What struck me was the sheer similarity between the bottles of Pran Frooto and the UAE-based brand.
Brands usually distinguish themselves from one another. Take the examples of global soft drink brands Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Their bottles are markedly different from each other.
I wondered why Bangladeshi brands did not have stronger protection of their trademarks. One answer could be that Bangladesh is not a member of the international trademark protection regime, including the Madrid Union, the Nice Agreement, and the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.
While Bangladesh is a member of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, its non-membership in the global trademark regime is a disadvantage for businesses.
The Madrid Union originated in 1891. Since 1989, membership of the Madrid Union has expanded after the Madrid Protocol came into effect. There are 105 member states in the Madrid Union. Under the Madrid system, a trademark registration can be forwarded to other member states.
An international registration will be entitled to the “right of priority” under Article 4 of the Paris Convention. One of the recent countries to join the Madrid Union is neighbouring India, which acceded to the protocol in 2013.
The international classification of goods and services is prevalent under the Nice Agreement. 88 countries are state parties to the Nice Agreement. The Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks aims to standardize the procedure of trademark registration. 49 countries are state parties to the Singapore Treaty.
Other important international instruments on intellectual property law include the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, and the Patent Law Treaty.
Canada is one of the latest entrants in the global trademark regime. According to the Canadian government: “By joining the Singapore Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Nice Agreement, Canadian businesses and innovators now have access to efficient means of protecting their trademarks in various jurisdictions around the world.
A modernized trademark regime that is aligned with other jurisdictions, lowers the cost and increases the ease of doing business in Canada, to the benefit of both Canadian businesses and those looking to invest in Canadian markets.”
The benefits for Canadian businesses include enhanced e-services, a single application procedure, reduced filing costs, and multi-national consistency in goods and services classification.
In Bangladesh, a trademark registration process can be slow, and extend for more than two years. The lack of international standardization may put off potential foreign investors seeking to enter the Bangladeshi market. It would be difficult for many foreign brands to open up shop in Bangladesh without adequate protection of trademarks and other intellectual property rights. The Bangladeshi consumer should not be deprived of access to the global marketplace.
Patents and industrial designs will allow Bangladesh to develop its manufacturing and hi-tech sectors. The harmonization of intellectual property law with the international regime will promote Bangladesh’s integration into the global supply chain.
Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field.