While an amended version of the Lao Law on Intellectual Property took effect in June 2018, patent applicants can still be frustrated by the lengthy application pendency in the Lao Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) of the Ministry of Science and Technology. There are, however, several ways to accelerate Lao patent prosecution.

Laos participates in the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation (ASPEC) which allows applicants for patent protection in other ASEAN patent offices to save cost and time when seeking Lao patent protection. There are nine participating ASEAN IP Offices (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam) and ASPEC enables Lao DIP to utilize the search and examination results from any of these IP Offices as a reference in the Lao patent prosecution when that IP Office has found at least one claim novel and inventive. In this manner, the applicant benefits from expedited prosecution from the time of filing the ASPEC request until grant.

In order to qualify for ASPEC, a patent application filed at the Lao DIP must be a corresponding patent application to one that is filed and examined in another ASEAN patent office. Patent applications are corresponding applications if they are linked by a Paris Convention priority claim (from one to the other or from both to another patent application) or are both national phase entry applications from the same Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application.

In 2016, a second means of accelerating Lao patent prosecution was launched with the Japan Patent Office (JPO). A framework was established by agreement between the Lao Ministry of Science and Technology and the JPO. Under the agreement, when patent applications have been examined and granted at the JPO, patent rights may also be granted to corresponding applications which have been filed in Laos without conducting substantial examinations. Therefore, applicants of Lao patent applications who own patents granted by the JPO can request accelerated decisions on eligibility for grant of the Lao patent applications with the DIP at any time after grant of the Japanese patent.

The requirements are that the designated patent application filed with the DIP must share the same earliest priority date and, like ASPEC, be linked by Paris Convention or PCT priority. In addition, since the designated patent application filed with the DIP requesting validation in Laos must already be a valid patent in Japan, the Lao pending claims must be the same as the claims granted by the JPO.

Providing a further means for accelerating patent grant in Laos, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) earlier this year also announced that, under an MOU signed in 2018 to further the IP cooperation between China and Laos under the Belt and Road Initiative and China-ASEAN IP cooperation, patent applicants who own valid Chinese patents may also request accelerated eligibility for grant decisions on Lao patent applications.

And just recently, on 27 November 2019, the Lao DIP signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) which will enable Singapore granted patents to be re-registered in Laos to accelerate enterprise access into both the Singapore and the Lao markets. In addition, the MoC enables the DIP to tap on IPOS’ patent search and examination expertise and services for prosecution of Lao patents. Utilizing the IPOS patent services and expertise, the Lao DIP seeks to improve its granted patent quality.

Thus, Lao patent prosecution can be accelerated in several ways to reduce filing to grant pendency in Laos using Japanese, Chinese or Singapore patents or ASEAN patent applications. In addition to reducing pendency, the Lao DIP also seeks to improve granted patent quality making the most of its cooperation with Singapore’s patent search and examination services.

This article was first published in Managing IP November/December 2019 edition.