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Protection Under the Geographical Indication Act. B.E. 2546 - March 2004
In brief: Intellectual property rights have recently become a key feature of trade related agreements, with protection and enforcement key aspects, and frequently the cause of delays and disagreements, in trade negotiations. For Thailand however, this could be about to change with the implementation of its obligations under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
By Suraphon Rittipongchusit
Under the Agreement Thailand is bound to implement domestic legislation in order to comply with the Agreement’s stipulations. One of the most important aspects of the TRIPS Agreement is the focus on geographical indicators as a way to protect products. The new so called Geographical Indication Act BE 2546 will come into effect on April 29th 2004 and will have an important impact on both manufacturers as well as the business community as a whole.
Geographical indications are the names which define the special characteristics of a product as well as the place where the product has been produced.
For example, if an orange is called a "Bang Mod" orange, then the customer will automatically know that the orange will be sweet tasting and not sour. The name therefore, indicates both the place where the orange is from and also, the unique taste of those oranges that cannot be found with other oranges. The term “Bang Mod” therefore, could be classed as an “Indication”.
Geographical indications are different from trademarks because a trademark only shows who is the manufacturer or owner of the product and does not in any way define the taste of a product, nor show how it is different from any other product of the same type.
In order to gain legal protection the geographical indication of the product must be registered.
There are three groups who can request registration.
Natural or juristic persons or group of persons engaging in a business related to the product which uses the geographical indication and also has domicile in the relevant geographical area.
Consumer Groups or organizations using products which already have a geographical indication.
Products originating in Thailand as well as products which originate abroad can request registration. For products which originate abroad there are some extra requirements which must be fulfilled before a product can be registered and receive protection under Thai law.
The new law states that the official who receives the application must file his report and opinion with the Registrar within 120 (one hundred twenty) days from the day when all the required information is obtained
When the application has all the information required by the registrar, the application will be the published so that any interested party can file an objection within 90 days of the publication date. If there is no objection, the Registrar will register the indicator within 15 (fifteen) days of the 90-day period.
After enactment of the Geographical Indications Act, it will clearly be extremely important for both producers and manufacturers alike to exercise caution in naming their products and to check with the relevant ministry that any product named after a province or place, does not infringe on an existing registration for a similar product.
The advantages of registering a product under the Act are clear. In an age of increasing globalisation it is now possible to buy Thai products in almost every country in the world. Registering a product under the Geographical Indications Act will give worldwide consumers a great deal of information concerning a product’s origin and will also act as a badge of quality assurance. Registration of a product as possessing unique qualities specific to a particular place, will often mean a higher price, again a clear advantage for producers and manufacturers.
The implementation of the act should also strengthen Thailand’s position when completing negotiations on the Thai- Australian Free Trade Agreement as well as assisting with the negotiations for similar agreements currently underway with the US and Japan.
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