Several general principles are important for effective protection of intellectual property (IP) rights in Turkey. First, it is important to have an overall strategy to protect your IP. Second, IP may be protected differently in Turkey than in the United States. Third, rights must be registered and enforced in Turkey under local laws. For example, your U.S. trademark or patent registrations will not be enforceable in Turkey without applying for such rights. Investors should be aware that Turkey is one of 23 countries on a United States Trade Representative (USTR) watch list identifying countries with problems related to IP protection, enforcement, or market access for U.S. persons relying on IP.
A patent for an invention can be obtained by filing a patent application with the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office (TURKPATENT), which is within the Ministry of Industry and Technology. Turkey is a “first-to-file” country, which means that the first person or entity to register the patent becomes the title holder. A registration for a trademark or design can be obtained by filing such applications with TURKPATENT. Similarly, most trademark and design rights are based on a first-to-file registration system. Therefore, you should consider how to obtain patent, design, or trademark protection before introducing your products or services into the Turkish market. Better yet, you should consider having an IP strategy for each individual country even before making your IP public in any country to ensure that you do not lose the rights outside the United States.
There are also other international registration systems, such as the Patent Cooperation Treaty for patents or the Madrid Protocol for trademarks, which could be useful to facilitate the protection of your IP in many countries of the world, including Turkey.
Most copyrighted works created in the United States will be automatically protected in Turkey from the moment of creation or publication according to international agreements. However, registration of your copyright in Turkey can help provide proof of ownership and the date of creation. Copyright registrations can be filed with the Directorate General for Copyright, which is within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
It is vital that companies understand that intellectual property rights are primarily private rights, and that the USG cannot enforce them for private entities or individuals in Turkey. It is the responsibility of the rights holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant. Companies may wish to seek advice from local legal counsel or IP consultants who are experts in Turkish law. The U.S. Commercial Service can provide a list of local lawyers upon request.
While the USG stands ready to assist, there is little that can be done if the rights-holders have not taken these fundamental steps necessary to secure and enforce their IP in a timely fashion. Moreover, in many countries rights holders who delay enforcement of their rights may find that their rights have been eroded or abandoned due to legal doctrines such as statutes of limitations, laches, estoppel, or unreasonable delay in prosecuting a lawsuit. In no instance should USG advice be regarded as a substitute for the responsibility of a rights holder to promptly pursue its case.
In all commercial arrangements, it is always advisable to conduct due diligence on potential business partners. A good partner is an important ally in protecting IP rights. Consider carefully whether to permit your partner to register 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. In formalizing business relationships, work with legal counsel familiar with Turkish law to create a solid contract with confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions. Such contractual clauses are important to safeguard a company’s proprietary information and trade secrets from misappropriation.
It is also recommended that small and medium-size companies understand the importance of working together with trade associations and organizations to support efforts to protect IP. There are a number of these organizations, both in the U.S. and Turkey, including the American Business Forum in Turkey.
For more information, you may contact the Intellectual Property Attaché covering Turkey, Dorian Mazurkevich at Dorian.Mazurkevich@trade.gov, or ITA’s Office of Intellectual Property Rights Director, Stevan Mitchell at Stevan.Mitchell@trade.gov. As an additional resource, please see ITA’s website on Protecting Intellectual Property.