Following accession to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) in September 2014 and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) in January 2015, Cambodia has upped its efforts in developing its intellectual property environment even further by becoming the 151st state to accede to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (“PCT”) – an international treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) that facilitates and simplifies the process of obtaining patent protection internationally.

Cambodia will become bound by the treaty on 8 December 2016. This will definitely be welcoming news to foreign patent applicants, as the PCT is an efficient time-buying mechanism for global protection. Following the date, foreign applicants – especially those from the other 150 states party to the PCT - may now extend their filings to Cambodia within a time-limit of 30 months, dated from the earliest priority date of an international application.

This same period will also apply to those wishing to reserve their rights upon filing a new single international application. This is considerably longer than the mere 12 months afforded by the Paris Convention – under Cambodia’s previous patent system - to seek funding and assess the merits and likelihood of commercial success of an invention before entering the market.

Accordingly, Cambodian nationals and residents will greatly benefit from the accession - they will also now be entitled to seek patent protection through a single international application made to the Cambodian patent office.

Furthermore, the PCT provides the service of international search reports and written opinions that summarize findings pertaining to the patentability of an invention during the international phase. Hence, foreign applicants who wish to obtain protection in Cambodia may use these international reports instead of domestically-produced ones. Not only will this be a far more cost-effective measure from the applicant’s point of view, but Cambodia’s patent office will also benefit greatly from this added capacity. The administrative burden on search and examination processes, including formality checks and patentability assessments, will be significantly reduced - local examiners will not necessarily have to conduct these from scratch. This will make the Cambodian patent registration system far more efficient in processing and granting patent applications.

Furthermore, Cambodia will now be able to gain access to technical expertise and development programs offered by WIPO to improve the competency of local patent administrators and examiners in the approvals process. Where difficulties are encountered in the grant-making decisions process, as a PCT member Cambodia may always seek assistance from their fellow member states – most pertinently, those which boast a well-established patent system.

Although patent law has been in place in Cambodia since 2003, no patent was ever granted in the country until the Singapore-Cambodia re-registration program was initiated by the Memorandum of Understanding with IPOS in 2015. Such a sluggish situation in terms of patent granting in Cambodia will be greatly improved after accession to the PCT, given the benefits mentioned. It will certainly boost the foreign applicant’s confidence in Cambodia.

Nevertheless, an enhanced patent filing and registration system alone will not be sufficient to bolster the socio-economic development of the country. Efficient and effective protection of IP rights is equally important in attracting foreign investment, promoting the transfer and dissemination of technology and creating demand for skilled workers to perform high-paid jobs. Cambodia needs effective enforcement mechanisms to fight against potential infringement and counterfeiting issues. This will not be realized without the awareness of Cambodians themselves of their important roles in IP rights enforcement.

To help nationals and residents in Cambodia to better understand the value of intellectual property to a developing economy, “The Intellectual Property Association of Cambodia” (“IPAC’), an organization led by qualified intellectual property agents, lawyers and academics, was founded in July 2016. Backed by the Ministry of Commerce, it is Cambodia’s first independent association dealing with IP matters. It aims to work closely with governmental agencies in promoting and spreading awareness through seminars, lectures and roadshows. Further down the line, IPAC aims to aid the development of Cambodia’s IP enforcement standards.

In summary, accession to the PCT and the formation of IPAC has ensured 2016 has been a breakthrough year for Cambodia’s intellectual property environment. IP-related activities are expected to rapidly increase in Cambodia in the coming years.

First printed in CIPA.