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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vietnam coffee GI problems spill over into trademarks


There is already a dispute over a geographical indication (GI) for coffee, Buot Ma Thuot reported here – between Vietnam and a Chinese trademark registrant.

Now the issue is made more complicated by a new trademark conflict. Minh An Cooperative, a Vietnamese coffee producer reported to be in financial difficulties, is seeking to sell some of its trademarks (protected in Vietnam, China and the USA) to a Chinese coffee company.

But the trademarks, Coffee Duc Lap Dakmil and Coffee Duc Lac Minh An use geographic names, the first one referring to Dak Mil district and the other to Duc Lac province, both known for coffee production. The local government of Duc Lac is seeking to build up a GI under the Duc Lac name. The sale of the mark would dilute the attractiveness of a potential GI.

But worst of all the buyer is Guangzhou Buon Ma Thuot Coffee, the very same entity which registered the Vietnamese GI Buot Ma Thuot as a trademark - see the report mentioned above.

One could argue that the NOIP should not have accepted Minh An Cooperative’s trademarks for registration. Then again GIs are a new creature in Vietnam whereas the trademarks were registered some while back. It’s a rather more compressed form of the new world/old world TM vs GI conflict between the US and Europe. But now that the trademarks are registered, the NOIP and Vietnam is in difficulties. How can it take away trademark rights, which Minh An Cooperative need to sell, to allow the protection of new GIs?  It could ask the WIPO and WTO for help, but then again, they don't have the answer either.

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