On January 23rd 2017 in Phnom Penh, an agreement was signed between Cambodian Senior Minister for Industry Cham Prasidh and Benoit Batistelli, President of the European Patent Office, stipulating that patents registered with the European Patent Office (EPO) will be valid in Cambodia, with a date of 1st July 2017 set as the projected entry into force of the EPO validation agreement.
Extending the scope of protection for registered European patents to Cambodia represents a milestone in European patent holders’ investment into the Southeast Asian nation. Cambodia becomes the first country in Asia to agree to validate European patents in its territory, and the only country from outside of the European continent to do so, save for Morocco, Moldova (since 2015) and Tunisia (pending entry into force). Upon filing for a European patent with the EPO, applicants will have the option to extend the validity of their patent protection to Cambodia.
Whilst this may be an unprecedented move for an IP regime in Asia, it is just one of a number of steps that Cambodia has taken in the last two years to modernise its intellectual property system. It has recently signed up to the Madrid Protocol of Trademarks, the Patent Co-Operation Treaty and, most recently, the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Indeed, this announcement of cross-jurisdictional validity of European patents has been the result of a government delegation from Cambodia having held discussions at the EPO in Munich in September 2016.
It is a deal that is being seen as beneficial from both sides – for the EPO, it is seen as an important first step of cooperation with Asian states to foster the automatic legal recognition of European patents in emerging economies. For Cambodia, it is another victory in the bid to bring in international investment through the facilitation and increased recognition of their IP environment. As a nation of just 15 million and with relatively tiny natural resources when compared to fellow member states within the ASEAN economic region, it is little wonder that efforts are being made to welcome international innovation within its borders.
Nevertheless, the agreement has been subject to some scepticism, especially given the fact that Cambodia presently has very few European patents registered in its jurisdiction – and only granted its first patent in early 2015, in collaboration with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two registries.
However, the EPO policy of granting certain jurisdictions ‘Validation State’ status is also relatively young. In the upcoming few years, it is likely that Cambodia’s development of its IP regime will be a good indicator as to the effectiveness of this policy in promoting the harmonisation of patents around the world. Should there be encouraging signs, it is likely that more states outside of Europe will seek to collaborate with the EPO in a similar manner.