Legislation governing the registration and protection of trademarks—Cambodia’s first law dealing with intellectual property—was approved unanimously Thursday by the National Assembly.
The law states that violators of a company’s or individual’s trademark can face either a fine of between $250 and $5,000 or a prison sentence of between one and five years. The penalty is up to the court to decide, lawmakers said Thursday.
Trademarks are symbols or logos that are used by manufacturers to distinguish their consumer products from others.
Passage of the law should increase investor confidence and show member nations of the World Trade Organization that the government is serious about passing the legislation needed for Cambodia to join the WTO, said Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State Sok Siphana.
However, many private businessmen and economic analysts will wait to see how well the law is enforced, said PricewaterhouseCoopers manager Senaka Fernando.
“I don’t think this alone will increase investor confidence,” he said. “Passing the law is one thing. Proper implementation is another.”
Fernando said his firm has at least two clients, who he would not identify, who have won legal battles here in recent years that upheld their company’s intellectual property rights. But those clients remain dissatisfied since the court rulings have not been enforced by authorities and their copyrights have continued to be violated, he said.
Some lawmakers complained that the penalty provisions of the trademark law could give too much power to the courts and open the way for more official corruption.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Ramy said that in some instances, fines ordered for violators may be smaller than the amount of money the violators made from infringing on the trademark.
Outside the assembly after the 91-0 vote, Sok Siphana said 45 more laws need to be approved in the next three years as part of Cambodia’s Legislative Action Plan. That plan, which covers such items as intellectual property rights, product standards and mechanisms for law enforcement, was drawn up by the Ministry of Commerce in order to schedule the drafting and passage of WTO-related legislation.
Many of those laws are already on the books and need only to be amended in order to comply with international standards, said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh.
Last month, WTO director-general Mike Moore visited Cambodia and encouraged officials, but also told them that work on gaining WTO membership could be “difficult,” and that there is much that Cambodia needs to do before it can become a member.
The draft law on trademarks was approved by the Council of Ministers last month, along with a draft law on patents.
The patent law may be considered by the National Assembly either at the end of this month or early January, according to Sok Siphana. The law protecting copyrights is still in the draft stage and hasn’t been sent to the Council of Ministers, he said.
Even though Cambodia has not had a trademark law, the government has been registering trademarks since the early 1990s. More than 15,000 trademarks are on file at the Ministry of Commerce.