Two weeks after “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” came out in the US, bootleg videos of the highly publicized movie could be found in Cambodian markets.
Although pirated products and fake brands are common in Asia, Cambodia has a bigger problem controlling them because it does not have the legal means to protect intellectual property.
Draft laws protecting the three areas of intellectual property have been in the works since 1995, said Var Roth San, deputy director of the intellectual property division at the Commerce Ministry.
They are finished and are being translated from English to Khmer, so they can hopefully be submitted to the Council of Ministers this month, he said. The drafts were amended and approved by the World Intellectual Property Organization based in Switzerland.
Var Roth San said establishing strong intellectual property law is important in attracting investors. “If intellectual property rights are protected, [investors] will come,” said Var Roth San, who has studied intellectual property law in the US, France and Japan.
The three areas of intellectual property are handled by several ministries. The Ministry of Commerce handles trademarks, the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy is responsible for patents, and copyrights fall under the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the Ministry of Information.
But there is still confusion and arguing among the ministries as to what their responsibilities are.
A Ministry of Information official said according to a decree, his ministry should handle printed material, such as books, instead of the Ministry of Culture.
“They [Ministry of Culture] want to control everything,” said Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state at Ministry of Information.
Sim Sarak, director of cultural development at the Ministry of Culture, said the Ministry of Information should handle media works, while the Ministry of Education should be responsible for educational books. The Ministry of Culture should handle artistic works, which include some kinds of books, he said.
Sim Sarak said he did not know how many copyrights have been issued, but more than 100 people have applied. It is difficult to keep track of copyrights because the 12 departments at the Ministry of Culture and five departments at the University of Fine Arts all issue copyrights, and none of them report to a central office.
The Ministry of Industry has not issued any patents and is currently reviewing the one application it has received, said Ping Siv Lay, deputy director of the technical department at the Industry Ministry. The patent involves MobiTel’s pre-paid billing system using scratch cards for mobile telephone use. At the request of MobiTel, the Municipal Court issued an injunction that prevented competitor Samart from launching its own version of the scratch card. The case is now pending in Supreme Court.
A Western investment adviser said the ministries handling patents and copyrights have much to learn, but the Ministry of Commerce has managed to do a good job. “The trademark office is the best one,” said the adviser, who asked not to be identified. “They know what they are doing. The others have no clue.”
Despite the lack of a trademark protection law, the Ministry of Commerce has managed to issue 12,000 trademarks since 1992 and has enforced international standards of intellectual property law, Var Roth San said.
In November, then-Pizza Hot restaurant was ordered to change its name to Pizza House because it was too similar to the US restaurant chain Pizza Hut. US Embassy officials had asked the government to force the change.
Once intellectual property laws are on the books, it will be up to the courts to enforce them. But judges are known to be corrupt and ignorant of the complexities of intellectual property law, the investment adviser said.
There is less of an incentive to establish intellectual property laws in Cambodia, where more than 80 percent of the population live in rural areas. “People who are poor don’t care about intellectual property,” the adviser said. “It’s a low priority.”