Vietnam’s ST25 rice is at risk of losing its brand in the US and Australia. The case shows that brand protection is important for local businesses to escape the “village pond” and reach out to the big sea.
CEO Nguyen Ngoc Luan still vividly remembers the days when his Meet More coffee brand almost fell into the hands of a business in Korea.
In 2018, Mr. Luan’s Meet More brand coffee was exported to South Korea. When he filed for copyright registration, the application was rejected by the Korean authorities because it had been registered by another firm.
“It turned out that the local company that distributed our products in Korea applied first. At that time, we had to file an application to determine the origin of the coffee, to prove that the brand belonged to us, and that the firm was just the buyer and distributor of our products. The Korean government received the application, and we also had to negotiate with our partner to ask them to withdraw their intellectual property application,” he recalled.
Luan’s case shows that foreign businesses are very sensitive about the matter of trademarks.
In 2020, Luan conducted a survey at supermarkets in Australia and found that many brands of Vietnam had been taken.
“The brand of Vietnamese Pho (noodle) was taken by China while the fish sauce brand was taken by Thailand. Brand loss has become common. We have neglected the issue of brand identity,” said Mr. Luan.
Which ‘price’ is actually higher?
Working in the field of intellectual property for many years, lawyer Le Quang Vy from the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association said the filing of an intellectual property application will give priority to the application that comes first. If submitted later, the latter will have to provide information to prove that the product belongs to them.
The law provides that trademarks are protected only in the territory in which the trademark is registered. When the product reaches out of the territory of a country, it will need to register for international protection.
The cost of protection registration is not high, around a few thousand dollars for the registration of an international trademark. However, when a trademark dispute occurs, it can cost tens of thousands or up to several hundred thousand dollars. “Then, which one is more expensive?” Vy said.
Sharing the same view, CEO Nguyen Ngoc Luan said that the price paid for trademark registration is much lower than the value obtained later. Vietnamese enterprises only focus on product value while not paying attention to brand value brought from trade and franchising.
“In the short term, we do not benefit. But when the product has a place in the market, that is the value. We have the right to exploit that brand value on foreign land. For example, in addition to selling actual coffee products, we also sell rights and franchises when someone wants to use our brand,” said Luan about his experience in creating a brand.
“We cannot blame businesses. They must be protected. We just talk about brand protection when a local brand is lost and then stop. Trung Nguyen suffered, then Phu Quoc fish sauce, then Pho. It is necessary to focus on this issue in the coming time,” said Deputy Director of the Intellectual Property Department (Ministry of Science and Technology) Tran Le Hong.
Regarding the brand review process, CEO Nguyen Ngoc Luan made an interesting comparison. For the trademark review process abroad, a trademark that wants protection only needs to be reviewed from one week to 10 days.
“Meanwhile, in Vietnam, it takes us two years after submitting an application. In those two years, we do not get a notification and then the application is denied. We spend a lot of money on marketing and then two years later we have to develop another brand. This shows that the flexibility to create an intellectual property brand in Vietnam is weak,” said CEO Luan.