The intellectual property rights (IPR) chapter of the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement contains state-of-the-art protections spanning all types of intellectual property and requirements to join key multilateral IPR agreements. The Agreement also contains strong enforcement provisions to ensure that all American intellectual property rights are efficiently and effectively protected in Panama.
Several general principles are important for effective management of intellectual property (“IP”) rights in Panama. First, it is essential to have an overall strategy to protect your IP. Second, IP may be protected differently in Panama than in the United States. Third, rights must be registered and enforced in Panama under local laws. For example, your U.S. trademark and patent registrations will not protect you in Panama. There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the world. However, most countries do offer copyright protection to foreign works under certain conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.
For additional information about treaty obligations, please see WIPO’s country profiles at; https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
U.S. companies should consider obtaining patent and trademark protection before introducing a product or service to the Panamanian market. Companies must understand that intellectual property is primarily a private right and that the U.S. government cannot enforce private individuals’ rights in Panama. Companies should seek advice from local attorneys or IP consultants who are experts in Panamanian law.
While the U.S. Government stands ready to assist, little can be done if the rights holders have not taken these necessary steps to securing and enforcing their IP in a timely fashion. It is always advisable to conduct due diligence on potential partners. A good partner is an essential ally in protecting IP rights. Consider carefully whether to permit your partner to register your IP rights on your behalf. Doing so may create a risk that your partner will list itself as the IP owner and fail to transfer the rights should the partnership end. Keep an eye on your cost structure and reduce the margins (and the incentive) of would-be bad actors. Projects and sales in Panama require constant attention. One should work with legal counsel familiar with Panamanian laws to create a solid contract that includes non-compete clauses and confidentiality/non-disclosure provisions. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Panama publishes a list of lawyers for reference. And a good source for more due diligence is the Bureau of Industry and Security; https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/policy-guidance/lists-of-parties-of-concern
Small and medium-sized companies should consider working with trade associations and other organizations to support their efforts to protect IP and stop counterfeiting. There are a number of these organizations, both Panama and U.S.-based. 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)
A wealth of information on protecting IP is freely available to U.S. rights holders. Some excellent resources for companies regarding intellectual property include the following:
- For information about patent, trademark, or copyright issues — including enforcement issues in the US and other countries — call the STOP! Hotline: 1-866-999-HALT or visit https://www.stopfakes.gov/welcome
- For more information about registering trademarks and patents (both in the U.S. and foreign countries), contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) 1-800-786-9199, or visit https://www.uspto.gov/.
- For more information about registering for copyright protection in the United States, contact the U.S. Copyright Office at: 1-202-707-5959, or visit https://www.copyright.gov/.
For information on obtaining and enforcing intellectual property rights and market-specific IP Toolkits, visit https://www.stopfakes.gov/IPR-Toolkits. The toolkits contain detailed information on protecting and enforcing IP in specific markets and have contact information for local IPR offices abroad and U.S. government officials to assist SMEs.
- To access Costa Ria’s ICS, which includes information on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, visit the U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statement website.