Several general principles are important for effective management of intellectual property (“IP”) rights in Cambodia. First, it is important to have an overall strategy to protect IP. Second, IP may be protected differently in Cambodia than in the United States. Third, rights must be registered and enforced in Cambodia under local laws. Accordingly, the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia in 2020 to accelerate the recognition of U.S. patents in Cambodia.
Granting patents registrations is generally based on a first-to-file basis. Similarly, registering trademarks is based on a first-to-file basis, therefore companies should consider how to obtain patent and trademark protection before introducing products or services to the Cambodian market. It is vital that companies understand that intellectual property is primarily a private right and that the U.S. government cannot enforce rights for private individuals in Cambodia. It is the responsibility of the rights holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, retaining their own counsel and advisors. Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys or IP consultants who are experts in Cambodian law. The U.S. Commercial Service can provide a list of local lawyers upon request.
While the U.S. government stands ready to assist, there is little we can do if the rights holders have not taken the fundamental steps necessary to securing and enforcing their IP in a timely fashion. Moreover, in many countries, rights holders who delay enforcing their rights in the mistaken belief that the U.S. government can provide a political resolution to a legal problem may find their rights have been eroded or abrogated due to legal doctrines such as statutes of limitations, laches, estoppel, or unreasonable delay in prosecuting a lawsuit. In no instance should U.S. government advice be seen as a substitute for the responsibility of a rights holder to promptly pursue its case.
It is always advisable to conduct due diligence on potential partners. A good partner is an important ally in protecting IP rights. Companies should carefully consider whether to permit partners to register IP rights on their behalf. Doing so may create a risk that a partner would list itself as the IP owner and fail to transfer the rights should the partnership end. Companies should keep an eye on their cost structures and reduce the margins (and the incentive) of would-be bad actors. Projects and sales in Cambodia require constant attention. Work with legal counsel familiar with Cambodian laws to create a solid contract that includes non-compete clauses and confidentiality/non-disclosure provisions. It is also recommended that small and medium-sized companies understand the importance of working together with trade associations and organizations to support efforts to protect IP and stop counterfeiting. There are several of these organizations, based in both Cambodia and the United States. These include:
- The U.S. Chamber and local American Chambers of Commerce
- National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
- International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA)
- International Trademark Association (INTA)
- The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy
- International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC)
- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
- Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)
For additional background, see link to articles on Protecting Intellectual Property and Stopfakes.gov for more resources. For more information, contact ITA’s Office of Standards and Intellectual Property Rights (OSIP) Director, Stevan Mitchell at Stevan.Mitchell@trade.gov.
To access the Cambodia Investment Climate Statement, which includes information on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, visit the U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statement website.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has positioned IP attachés in key markets around the world. Contact details for the IP attaché who covers Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, is below.
IP Attaché for Southeast Asia
U.S. Embassy Bangkok
U.S. Commercial Service
Room 302, GPF Witthayu Tower A, 93/1 Wireless Road, Bangkok, 10330, Thailand