Last year, Singapore IT services provider Robby Asianto was looking for a name for a company he was registering in Cambodia.
It had to be something catchy. Something that stuck in the mind. Something like, oh, say, Starbucks.
“I liked the name Starbucks. Everybody’s heard of it. It’s easy to remember,” Asianto said by telephone from Singapore on Tuesday.
“We were just thinking of starting something new. It has nothing to do with coffee.”
So in November 2007, he registered the name “Starbucks Limited” with the Commerce Ministry to an address at the Parkway Square business center in Chamkar Mon district.
Rather than tall mugs of coffee, Asianto said he hopes his Starbucks will one day provide IT infrastructure solutions to clients in Cambodia, just like the company Eins Technology does in Singapore, where he is its managing director.
But his new Cambodian venture will likely do so under a name other than that of the global coffee confectioner Starbucks, which operates in 47 countries around the globe including Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, he said.
“I found out that the brand [Starbucks] has been registered all over the world, so I might have to change it,” Asianto said.
“I really do not know about Cambodian law. I just don’t want to get bogged down with all the legal issues.”
Pirated or illegally copied materials, such as books and DVDs, are often freely traded in Cambodia, but the World Trade Organization in 2005 gave Cambodia until 2013 to begin enforcing copyright laws and accepting patents.
Trade names, however, such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, are already protected in Cambodia.
The Commerce Ministry said Tuesday that it can revoke the registration of companies that engage in trademark violation or that act without the trademark holder’s permission.
“McDonald’s and Starbucks are the trademarks of famous US companies, so no company could use it,” said Var Roth San, the ministry’s head of intellectual property.
“Companies may choose arbitration or may file a complaint through the ministry if there is any infringement,” he said.
Regional representatives for both McDonald’s and Starbucks corporations said Tuesday they had no plans to enter the Cambodian market in the near future.
The name “McDonald’s Restaurants Pte Ltd” has been registered at the Commerce Ministry since December, 1995, records show. The registrants could not be contacted Tuesday.
“Currently, we have no plans to open any franchise in Cambodia,” said Anna Kong, assistant to the vice president for communications at McDonald’s Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, said by telephone from Hong Kong.
The company is unaware of the creation of a Cambodian company using its name, she added.
Wendy Pang, regional communications manager for Starbucks in Hong Kong, said the company had no comment on the registration of any Cambodian company by the same name.
“Starbucks takes any potential infringement of its trademarks or other intellectual property rights seriously,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Starbucks Corporation in 2006 won a landmark ruling in a Chinese court against a rival coffee chain named “Xingbake,” which is both a transliteration and translation of its name in Chinese.
In 2005, the Cambodian Commerce Ministry recorded 20,000 trademarks and investigated about 30 complaints. That year, it persuaded the Siem Reap province convenience store 7-Bright to change a logo judged too similar to that of the global chain of stores 7-Eleven.
Coca-Cola also asked the ministry to take action against the makers of “Hello Cola,” which Coca-Cola said used the company’s trademarked “wave” symbol.
According to the International Trademark Association, Cambodia is among the countries that can require proof that a company has used a trademark in order for it to be renewed.
Matthew Rendall, a partner at the legal consultancy Sciaroni & Associates, said that while retail trademark infringement was rife in Cambodia in the early 1990s—a hotel named Sharaton, and not Sheraton, and a pizzeria named Pizza Hot, not Pizza Hut, come to mind—the problem is currently not observed in Cambodia.
The active engagement of the Commerce Ministry was largely responsible for this, he said.
“You just don’t see it in Cambodia,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of investors, and that’s never been an issue.”
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)