Cambodia is still a way off implementing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on intellectual property rights, despite a deadline to do so in just over a month.
At the end of June, the group of the world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs), including Cambodia, run out of time on an already extended exemption that means they are not obliged to enforce copyright and prevent vendors from selling pirated or counterfeit goods.
In March, members of the WTO Council for Trade-related Aspects for Intellectual Property Rights, agreed in principle with a request from LDCs to extend the deadline, accepting that poorer countries lack the capacity to comply with the rules. Talks are still ongoing to negotiate an extension.
The deadline has already been extended once, from 2005 to this year, and in Cambodia at least, the availability of goods in breach of intellectual property rules—counterfeit medicines, fake fashion brands, pirated books, movies, music and computer software—continues unabated.
If the deadline is not extended, Cambodia could be at risk of trade sanctions being implemented by the WTO if another member state files a complaint against the country.
Var Roth San, director of the intellectual property department at the Commerce Ministry, said Cambodia still lacked the resources to enforce intellectual property and was therefore hoping that the deadline would be delayed.
“The state doesn’t have enough money to hire many officials to work on it and the work is mounting every day,” Mr. Roth San said, explaining that officials with the necessary English skills to enforce intellectual property were loath to accept the civil servants wage on offer for such work.
A national strategy had been drawn up on the issue, and would be enacted after the national election in July, he said.
Pily Wong, chief representative and country manager for Microsoft in Cambodia and president of the ICT Business Association, said that 95 percent of software used in Cambodia is pirated, preventing both international firms and local startups from being successful here.
He said the government has shown some willingness to act, but progress to enforce the rules has been slow.
“The Cambodian government is well structured; all the enforcement arms are there. It’s about the good will of the government,” he said, adding that while action has been taken against intellectual property breaches, it has only occurred after a complaint has been filed.
“The law enforcers are telling the intellectual property rights owners that if they want them to enforce, you should place a complaint,” Mr. Wong said, explaining that the economic police or government officials involved are known to ask for money in return for enforcing the rules. “I think everybody knows that in Cambodia, relationships and connections are very important,” he said.
Mike Gaertner, operations officer at Sabay Digital Corporation, which runs media operations including online gaming in Cambodia, said the government was right not to consider intellectual property rights its top priority in improving the business environment.
“I don’t see many people in Cambodia struggling or having a failing business because of this,” he said. “It is more that it’s being pushed by international corporations to protect their intellectual property.”
Professor Brook Baker, an academic at the school of law at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, who authored a petition of academics calling on WTO members to extend the deadline, said by email that for a country like Cambodia to comply with the rules was “quite an onerous responsibility.”
It would involve setting up functioning patent and trademark offices, and training government officials, lawyers and judicial officials to recognize, apply and enforce intellectual property rights, he said.
Countries should be exempt until they are no longer an LDC, a U.N.-defined category, he said.
Mr. Baker said that European countries and the U.S. were negotiating “in bad faith” to force poorer states to enforce rules that will not benefit them.
“This extraordinarily burdensome, costly, and time-consuming process is established essentially to benefit foreign right holders because experience shows that [intellectual property] offices, for example Patent Offices, deal primarily (over 95%) with patent applications from foreign entities,” Mr. Baker said.
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