• A new IP law in Laos will be implemented this weekend
  • The IP law will introduce opposition procedures and allow 3D trademarks
  • It is the latest step to improve Lao trademark system and IP awareness

A new IP law will come into force in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos this weekend, introducing trademark opposition procedures to the country for the first time. The new law also stipulates the creation of a new digital platform for brand rights and expands the range of images eligible for trademark protection in the jurisdiction, among other things.

The new Law on Intellectual Property No 38/NA was published in the Lao Official Gazette on 25 May and will replace the existing IP law of Laos from 9 June. It replaces the previous IP law which was dated December 2011, representing the first upgrade of the country’s IP law in seven years. It will introduce several changes to the way intangible assets are attained, disputed and enforced in the country, and includes significant reforms to the trademark regime, as well as to the law governing patents, plant variety rights and copyrights.

Digging into the new IP law, the changes will not in themselves revolutionise the situation for brands operating in the country. However, they do constitute the latest step in bringing the country’s IP laws in to alignment with international standards, to expand trademark rights protection and to make the administration of such rights more efficient. As such, the new law reflects the Laos government’s appreciation of the importance of IP rights for innovators – domestic as well as international – and for sustainable economic development.

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Arguably the most significant change for trademark practitioners is the creation of opposition actions before the country’s Department of Intellectual Property, which currently does not give third parties the opportunity to oppose marks which they believe to conflict with their own rights. At present, the validity of a trademark can only be challenged in a cancellation action after the right has been granted – which, given significant delays in publishing new marks, often involves a significant wait. The new law makes the process more streamlined by allowing for oppositions to be made up to 60 days after a new right is published on a newly created digital platform.

Outside of the new opposition proceedings, further changes include the renewal of trademark rights being set 10 years after filing – rather than 10 years after grant – and that brands will, for the first time, have the opportunity to acquire trademarks for 3D branding and animated images.

It isn’t just the registration process that has been upgraded. The law also promises to make it easier for brand owners to take criminal action against infringers, reducing the requirements for launching criminal proceedings from having to demonstrate ‘intentional infringement, commercial motivation and harm to persons, the environment or property’ to only having to demonstrate that a violation was ‘intentional’. Customs officials might also be aided in the fight against fakes, with the new law providing the first explicit confirmation of their right to search and seize goods for export and import that are thought to infringe soft IP rights.

It remains to be seen just how much of these measures will improve the trademark regime in Laos. The new law makes a number of adjustments to, but does not overhaul, the current system. And a country whose IP laws have developed slowly by global standards – and which has until recently suffered from inefficient and inexperienced IP administration – will take time to bring its trademark regime up to the standard of the world’s larger and more developed markets.

The greater significance of the legislation is that it reflects the Lao government’s appreciation of the importance of intellectual property for economic development – in terms of the growing domestic businesses, diversifying the national economy and attracting foreign investment – and comes as the latest in a series of recent steps to bring the country in line with international best practices.

That process began in early 2016 when Laos became a party to the Madrid Protocol, thereby making it easier for international brands to acquire rights in the country. Later that year, the Lao government made the decision to introduce geographical indication rights, a move that was intended to help develop the country’s middle classes, uplift the rural economy by protecting the rights of local producers and to add to economic sustainability. Lastly, the Lao government is also seeking to promote greater IP awareness and understanding among domestic businesses, which director general of the country’s IP Department at the Ministry of Science and Technology, Khanlasy Keobounphanh, has said is currently lacking.

So, while Laos – as a relatively small market – may not currently be a top priority for international companies seeking to protect their brands, as the country’s economy and IP system develop in tandem, it will increasingly become a jurisdiction where domestic and international businesses seek to register and enforce their trademark rights.