The fact that Vietnamese “Buon Ma Thuot” geographical indication has been discovered as stolen by a Chinese enterprise, has raised the worry that Vietnamese real coffee products with Buon Ma Thuot brand cannot enter the Chinese market.
The problem lies in the fact that a Chinese company has registered the trademark “Buon Ma Thuot” as the exclusive trademark in China. Experts have warned that the Chinese company may take a further step by registering the Buon Ma Thuot trademark all over the world.
Vietnam urged to take legal proceedings on Buon Ma Thuot
Tran Viet Hung, who has left the post of the Director of the Office for Intellectual Property (NOIP) to take a new office, said that even though there has been no sign showing that the Chinese company takes full advantage of its registered trademark ownership to ask for the measures to prohibit Vietnamese Buon Ma Thuot brand coffee to enter the Chinese market, it is still necessary to take legal proceedings to ask for Buon Ma Thuot trademark back, as soon as possible.
Hung believes Vietnam can bring the case to the Chinese court. The Chinese laws, like the laws of other countries which are the members of WTO, all stipulate that one has the right to ask for removing the trademarks and geographical indications which may cause misunderstanding about the origin of products.
Hung cited the success story of a coconut candy in Ben Tre province, which once sued a Chinese import company in 1999, because the Chinese company registered the “Ben Tre coconut candy” trademark in China, though Ben Tre coconut candy trademark has existed for the last many generations in Vietnam.
According to Hung, this is not for the first time a Vietnamese geographical indication is stolen. The same thing occurred with Vietnamese Phu Quoc fish sauce in 2000. The Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association then had to immediately register its geographical indications in Europe.
He has advised the Ben Tre provincial authorities to send a petition to Chinese authorities to ask for the removal of the trademark registration. The only solution to avoid similar cases is that enterprises need to register geographical indication for protection, not only in Vietnam, but in other markets as well.
Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted
The story does not surprise anyone in Vietnam, because similar things happened many times in the country. Vietnamese enterprises, in many cases, also had to sue foreign companies for registering Vietnamese trademarks, and they only could register their trademark ownership after spending a lot of time and money on the lawsuits.
Trinh Duc Minh, Deputy Director of the Dak Lak provincial Department for Science and Technology, said that Vietnam should have draw a lesson from the cases of having its famous trademarks stolen. He said that the thing that needs to be done immediately is to register trademarks and geographical indications in big markets.
However, Minh admitted that many Vietnamese enterprises once met big challenges when registering trademarks in other countries, because they are weak at both financial capability and legal knowledge.
“I know some enterprises which still cannot register their trademarks in foreign countries though they filed for the registration several years ago,” he said.
Nguyen Tuan Hung, a senior official of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said that Vietnamese enterprises and local authorities still have not been fully aware of the importance of the trademark registration. Many enterprises said that they do not have money to follow necessary procedures.
Regarding the Buon Ma Thuot case, Minh said that the provincial science department has asked for the help from NOIP, but it has not got reply yet.
However, Minh believes that in this case, the problem is not as too serious as people think and he does not think that Vietnamese Buon Ma Thuot coffee will be prohibited to enter the Chinese market or other import markets.
According to Tran Ha Nam, Deputy Chair of the Coffee and Cocoa Association, Vietnam’s coffee exports are not big. “If they (China) apply the measures to block Vietnamese coffee, this would affect only coffee powder, packed coffee products for retail with Vietnamese labels. Meanwhile, the export of coffee nut and raw coffee will not bear influence,” Nam said.
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