RANGOON — The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) will launch a Myanmar Intellectual Property Association ahead of the expected passage of an Intellectual Property Law by Burma’s Parliament, according to a UMFCCI official.
Aye Lwin, joint secretary general of the UMFCCI, said at a seminar on intellectual property (IP) awareness over the weekend that his federation would form the association “very soon.” He invited well-known Burmese brands such as Shwe Pyi Nan, seller of the traditional cosmetic known as thanaka, and Zawtika, a prominent maker of monk robes and other paraphernalia sported by the religious order, to join the association, which will advocate on their behalf.
“There is an International Trademark Association that was organized by famous brands like KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken], Toshiba and Mitsubishi to protect their brands. But Myanmar forgot about this. We also need to protect Myanmar brands with this association,” he said on Saturday.
Since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and becoming an Asean member in 1997, Burma has signed on to agreements under both organizations, but lacking a domestic law on the issue, IP rights in the country are virtually nonexistent.
Hnin Nwe Aye, assistant director of the Ministry of Science and Technology, expressed optimism that the ninth iteration of an IP draft law, currently taking comments from the Attorney General’s Office, would soon be before Parliament.
A strong IP law would be important for improving Burma’s business climate, said Hnin Nwe Aye, whose ministry is playing a major role in the law’s drafting.
“Today’s age is an age of knowledge, and intangible things like technology and trademarks are more valuable than tangible things. Investors want to make sure they are protected, so an IP law is urgently needed,” she said.
There will be four components to the law, with provisions relating to trademarks, patents, intellectual design and copyright. The law will be in line with Asean and WTO standards, Hnin Nwe Aye said.
According to an agreement with the WTO, Burma was obligated to enact an IP law by 2006. Its failure to do so was forgiven by the world trade body when it granted all “least-developed countries”—Burma among them—an extension, postponing the requirement to 2013.
Naoto Mukai, an advisor for industrial development and public policy with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said Burmese people should become acquainted with IP concepts before the country’s law is enacted.
“If someone invents a new product, it is necessary to protect the intellectual property so that the value of the product can be increased. More investment will come if IP [rights] are practiced in Myanmar. If businesses can apply it well, they can improve,” he said.
However, Htain Linn Oo, an advocate and managing partner from the Myanmar Trademark and Patent Law Firm, said that in the absence of an effective public awareness campaign, more court cases involving IP infringement could be expected with passage of a new law.
“The cases of IP in business since 1997 did not even reach 100 cases,” he said, adding that he expected the number of cases to jump sevenfold with a proper IP law in place.
In Burma, the most common IP violations concern trademark infringement, said Htain Linn Oo, who is also a member of the Intellectual Property Group.
Toshiya Furusho, Attorney at Law of Japan and New York State, said Burma would be left behind other Asean nations if it failed to implement and practice IP protections.
“Myanmar has thanaka businesses that can grow in the future, so it should have patent [law]” to protect their products, he said.
Under Japanese IP laws, violators can face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10 million Japanese yen (US$97,000). Sentences vary based on the nature and degree of the violation.