Minister of Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, spoke with VET about working with Vietnam and ASEAN on enforcing IP protection.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the UK’s Minister for Intellectual Property, made her first visit to Vietnam on September 23; the second country on her trip to Southeast Asia, following Singapore, where she emphasized the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights in relations between the UK and ASEAN to bolster trade relations.
As an emerging market, the trade relations between Vietnam and the UK hold great potential. Counterfeit products, however, are a major obstacle to exports from the UK to Vietnam. For this reason, the IP Office of the UK is supporting the Market Surveillance Agency under the Ministry of Industry and Trade in conducting a project to bolster the enforcement of IP rights in Vietnam.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe spoke with VET during her trip about the role of IP in the cooperative activities between the two countries.
How would you comment on the potential for cooperation between Vietnam and the UK in regards to IP?
IP cooperation would bring a lot benefits to both countries. The UK is already importing a large number of electronics products from Vietnam, as well as garment and shoes. They are important sources for British business and retailers, so making sure they are not counterfeits is important. IP laws and enforcement must always be considered carefully.
If you want investment from Europe and from the UK, IP rights are very important. People need to know that their rights will be respected and their designs won’t be copied. If you set up a supply chain in a factory and find the same thing being produced down the road, you need a proper regime and laws to protect you.
In both imports and exports, IP is very important for a modern economy. That’s one point. The second point is that the enforcement of law is important. IP covers patents, brands, trademarks and copyrights. It’s a whole area of law based on supporting creativity and encouraging innovation and knowledge.
Why is the UK supporting Vietnam in regard to IP laws?
We are supporting Vietnam in its efforts to move ahead in IP because it contributes to boosting the economy from developing to being more developed. Because IP and counterfeits have no borders, we are pleased to support Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.
I’ve spoken with the government to make sure that Vietnam has the right legal framework. I have to say that Vietnamese law has improved a lot in recent years but you have to enforce that law and we want to work together to do that. There has been good coordination between our police in London and the police here in Vietnam.
One of the reasons I put Vietnam high on my list of places to visit is because I spoke with the head of the IP unit in the City of London Police. He told me about his visit to Vietnam and how important it was that we should work here.
I was in business for 17 years and then in government. You’re looking certainty and opportunity, and that is affected by the legal regime within which you operate. Obviously, if you invest serious sums of company or shareholders’ money you have to make sure you have a business model that will work.
You always need to look at the risk. You could create a factory that serves a market and consumers but you also have to look at the risk factors surrounding legal compliance and IP law, which are important. In particular, if you have counterfeits that are linked to fraud and corruption these are very difficult issues for you as a company. So I think the more that Vietnam can show the reforms it’s made, the enforcement it’s undertaking to show respect for IP rights and that there isn’t any illegal activity going on, the more investors will be confident in coming here.
The other important thing in doing business is to know other investors. It gives you more confidence if other companies you are trading with are also in a particular market. Unilever, one of our largest brands, is working here in Vietnam in healthcare, which gives confidence to other British investors. Businesses want to talk with each other, they want to talk with the government and they like to have certainty and they like to be consulted.
How would you comment on the challenges for Vietnam in IP rights?
The first is coordinated leadership across the government and the second is legal enforcement. I met with four different ministers and spoke to them about the different roles and shared the experience we have had in the UK. I believe we can engage in country-to-country and businesses-to-government dialogue to find a better way to ensure a transparent market. Eliminating counterfeits will clean up the market and make it more attractive to foreign investors.
How is IP rights protection in Vietnam compared to elsewhere in ASEAN?
I think the way Vietnam is going is similar to global IP organizations and over time the laws on patents and design have changed, becoming much stronger and Vietnam has formed a legal framework.
I think that in terms of enforcement the issues are similar, which is making sure you have the controls so you don’t have illegal trading and counterfeits that undermine people’s rights, and I feel that because borders are open it is important to collaborate with other countries. And that’s one of the things I feel we can help with.
There is an economic opportunity here. As Vietnam becomes more developed IP rights become more important and are vital in building up trade between our two countries. With a population of 90 million and lots of young people and dynamism that you see everywhere, it is a delight to be here.