Though Cambodia’s main industries are today making clothes, growing rice and hosting tourists, mainstays of the economy could one day involve composing music and computer software, producing films or designing electronics.
But industries that require authors to own the ideas they create cannot survive if such intellectual property is not protected by law, a fact that is not lost on the Commerce Ministry, which is developing the legal framework to protect copyrights, trademarks and patents.
Four days of discussions began in Phnom Penh yesterday between 49 judges from Asean countries, including Cambodia, and American judges to help shape a court of commercial arbitration expected to be established next year, according to Var Roth San, director of intellectual property rights department at the Commerce Ministry.
He said laws on intellectual property were widely flouted in Cambodia due to lack of enforcement. The ministry cooperated with the Asean Secretariat and US Patent and Trademark Office in organizing the workshop.
“We have to recognize our weakness and set up a commercial court,” Mr Roth San said, noting that processing cases through the current court system is costly and time consuming.
“If you only have a good law but the enforcement agencies are not strong then it is useless. Therefore we try to train enforcement agencies, to establish regulations and sub-decrees, to strengthen this enforcement.”
Phann Vanrath, a prosecutor at the Supreme Court, said he and 17 other judges and prosecutors receive weekly training in commercial law from the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions.
The students are gaining expertise to become commercial judges, Mr Vanrath said, noting that the court system does enforce laws on intellectual property.
“We do not collect all the data and judgments so it seems we do not enforce IPR law, but now we do enforce IPR law. Of course, we still have some problems about IP infringement in Cambodia but enforcement is improving.”
Better enforcement of intellectual property and commercial laws would encourage legitimate distributors to invest in Cambodia, said Peter Fowler, senior counsel for enforcement at the USPTO.
For example, at the moment nobody would invest in a cinema here because of widespread piracy of DVDs, Mr Fowler said.
The proposed commercial court would allow more technically proficient judges and personnel to rule on disputes arising from business transactions, he said.
“I think it would send a strong message to foreign investors and businessmen that Cambodia is serious about dealing with challenges with its own court system by setting up a specialized commercial court system.”