More than three years have passed since Bangladesh’s trade policy was the subject of a global review under the aegis of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This was the country’s fifth Trade Policy Review in which various trade and economic issues were closely scrutinized by the country’s trading partners. During the review, Bangladesh responded to several questions raised by others to know the country’s commitments and plans in some critical areas. Strengthening the industrial intellectual property (IP) regime was one.

In particular, the government responded that consultations with stakeholders were underway to join the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and the Madrid system to strengthen the country’s intellectual property regime.

The PCT is a global intellectual property agreement that provides patent protection in different countries by filing a single patent application. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) operates the system under an agreement to which 156 countries are signatories. In South Asia, only two countries – India and Sri Lanka – are currently PCT signatories. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives have yet to ratify the global compact.

Discussions on joining the global treaty have intensified in Bangladesh over the past two years amid the country’s decision to graduate from least developed country (LDC) status. In 2018, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) proposed that the government join three international treaties: on patents, trademarks and industrial designs. The Madrid system covers the mark and the Hague system covers the design.

However, progress in this regard is slow for various reasons, including the lack of awareness of industrial intellectual property.

As an LDC, Bangladesh is exempt from the obligations of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The waiver will end when the country finally graduates from the LDC category in 2026. Although the LDCs are trying to maintain the waiver for a few years after graduation, no progress could be made in this regard so far. Joining international intellectual property treaties is also not a condition in this respect, although it has other long-term implications.

Bangladesh ranked 110th out of 134 countries in the 2020 World Patent Filing Rankings. New patent filing status fell approximately 3.0% during the year. The number, however, increased by 11.50% last year. Statistics available from the Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) showed that some 413 new applications for patent rights were filed in 2019, which fell to 403 in 2020 but increased to 447 in 2021. About a fifth of filings are local, meaning foreign innovators seek the bulk of intellectual property protection for their products. DPDT granted 129 patents in 2019, which increased to 140 in 2020 and 240 in 2021.

It should be noted that a patent is “an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process which provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem”. To obtain a patent right or protection, the innovator must disclose technical information about the invention to the public in an application. Patent protection means that “the invention cannot be commercially manufactured, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the consent of the patent owner”. Protection is generally valid for 20 years. Moreover, there is no global or international patent. It is a geographical or territorial right. Thus, for those seeking the patent right must apply separately in the countries where they want protection. Here is the importance of PCT.

The treaty helps applicants seek international patent protection for their inventions by filing a single international patent application. If Bangladesh is a contracting party to the treaty, a local innovator can seek patent protection in all other signatory countries or selected countries by filing a single application through the system. Even a foreign innovator can benefit from it. It is not necessary to file an application separately in the countries where they wish to obtain the patent right. It is therefore an instrument that saves time and costs less.

The granting of patent rights, however, falls within the exclusive competence of countries where the treaty or the WIPO has nothing to do. Thus, by applying for a patent in ten countries at once using the PCT system, the applicant can only obtain protection in five countries, because the other five countries reject the application. The PCT also assists national patent offices in making patent granting decisions and facilitates public access to relevant technical information.

Along the same lines, the Madrid system provides a single application platform to apply for trademark rights in multiple countries at once and the Hague system provides a one-stop solution for industrial designs. . Currently, 128 countries are contracting parties to the international trademark system and the number is 94 for the international registration of industrial designs. In Bangladesh, the protection of trademarks is much higher than that of patents or designs. Over the past year, some 15,508 new trademark protection applications were filed with 60% local applicants. According to WIPO, a “trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises”. Trademark disputes are also numerous in the country.

It is learned that progress has been made so far in the preparation work to join the global patent and trademark registration platforms. More work needs to be done in this regard. If Bangladesh becomes a PCT or Madrid signatory, there is no immediate benefit to the country where the intellectual property regime is still weak. It will, however, signal to the rest of the world that the country is on the path to strengthening its intellectual property regime. Investors and foreign companies will also see it as a positive factor.

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