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UN Experts Inspect Intellectual Property Standards

Three experts from the UN Conference on Trade and Development wrapped up an inspection tour of Cambodia’s intellectual property standards last week.

The government requested the inspection in 2008, to help fulfill its obligations under the World Trade Organization and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement.

Analysts say proper enforcement of intellectual property rights could draw more investors.

During a weeklong mission, the three trade experts met officials from the ministries of Culture, Commerce, Agriculture, Health and Justice, as well as investors and entrepreneurs.

In discussions, the team analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of Cambodia’s intellectual property laws, assessing the kind of technical assistance needed to improve them.

“More people need to be aware of what [intellectual property] is,” Kiyoshi Adachi, a legal officer for UNCTAD and leader of the team, told VOA Khmer. “For instance, the [customs] people and the border people, they have a very tough time figuring out what to confine and what not to. So [with] something like that, they all need to do an assessment.”

Cambodia joined the WTO in 2004 and has since tried to strengthen protection of intellectual property, including the enforcement of laws on trademarks, unfair competition, patents, certification and copyrights.

However, numerous government officials from across the ministries involved told VOA Khmer these protections remain poor, disrupting creative ideas and hampering investment.

“There is not much progress, because no one takes caution on [intellectual property rights],” said Lim You Sur, director of the copyright department of the Ministry of Culture. “People don’t want to spend money and spend time on new creativity, but they just steal other people’s property and reproduce it.”

“There is no new investment either,” he said.

Fixed investment in Cambodia was $5 billion in 2009, but most of that came through agriculture, tourism and construction, not technology, software or medicine.

Var Roth San, head of the secretariat of the IPR National Committee, said Cambodia’s intellectual property protection remains weak. Many law enforcement agencies lack knowledge of the proper laws, and the government has no money to build their understanding or bolster enforcement of new laws and regulations.

Adachi said the results of the UN assessment would be released at the end of the year, subsequently helping Cambodia receive technical assistance to improve its protections.

“If we have full IPR law enforcement, it will help us attract investors,” Var Roth San said. “If we don’t, who will dare to invest in Cambodia, where their products will be freely copied?”