More than three years have elapsed since Bangladesh's trade policy came under a global scrutiny under the umbrella of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It was the fifth trade-policy review of the country where various issues relating to trade and economy came under a close examination by the country's trade partners. During the review, Bangladesh responded to several queries raised by the others to know the country's commitments and plans on some critical areas. Strengthening industrial intellectual property (IP) regime was one.
One reply made by the government was that consultation with stakeholders was ongoing to join the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and Madrid System to make the country's IP regime stronger.
PCT is a global IP agreement that provides protection of patents in different countries through filing a single patent application. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (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 signatories of the PCT. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives have yet to ratify the global compact.
Discussion on joining the global treaty has been intensified in Bangladesh for the last couple of years in the backdrop of the country's move to graduate from the 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 patent, trademark and industrial design. Madrid system covers the trademark and Hague system covers design.
Nevertheless, progress in this regard is slow for various reasons, including lack of awareness about industrial IP.
Being an LDC, Bangladesh is exempted from the WTO agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) obligations. The waiver will come to an end when the country has finally graduated from the LDC category in 2026. Though LDCs are trying to continue the waiver for a couple of years after the graduation, no headway could be made in this regard so far. Joining the international treaties on IP is also not a condition in this regard though it has some other implications in the long run.
Bangladesh ranked 110th among 134 countries in the 2020 global ranking in patent filing. Status in filing application for new patent dropped by around 3.0 per cent in the year. The number, however, increased by 11.50 per cent last year. Statistics available with the Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) showed that some 413 new applications seeking patent right were filed in 2019, which dropped to 403 in 2020 but increased to 447 in 2021. Around one-fifth of the filed applications are local, meaning foreign innovators are seeking most of the IP protection for their goods. DPDT granted 129 patents in 2019, which increased to 140 in 2020 and further jumped to 240 in 2021.
It is to be noted that a patent is 'an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem.' To get a patent right or protection, the innovator has to disclose the technical information about the invention to the public in an application. Patent protection means 'the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.' The protection is generally valid for 20 years. Moreover, there is no global or international patent. It is a geographical or territorial right. So, for those who seek the patent right have to apply separately in the countries they want the protection. Here comes the importance of PCT.
The treaty assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally for their inventions by filing one international patent application. If Bangladesh is a contracting party to the treaty, a local innovator can seek patent protection in all the other signatory countries or the selected countries by filing a single application through the system. Even a foreign innovator can take the advantage. There is no need to file application separately in the countries they want the patent right. So, it is a time-saving and less-costly instrument.
Granting the patent right is, however, exclusive jurisdiction of the countries where the treaty or WIPO has nothing to do. So, by seeking patent in ten countries at a time using the PCT system, the applicant may get the protection in five countries only as the rest five countries reject the application. PCT also helps national patent offices on patent-granting decisions, and facilitate public access to relevant technical information.
In a similar vein, the Madrid System provides single- application platform to seek trademark rights in more countries at a time and the Hague System offers a single- window solution for industrial design. Currently, 128 countries are contracting parties of the international trademark system and the number is 94 for the international registration of industrial design. In Bangladesh, trademark protection is much higher than patent or design. In the past year, some 15,508 new applications for trademark protection were filed with 60-percent 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-related disputes are also high in the country.
It is learnt that some progress has been made so far in the spadework joining the global registration platforms on patent and trademark. More work is needed to be done in this connection. If Bangladesh becomes a signatory to the PCT or Madrid System, there is no immediate benefit for the country where IP regime is still weak. It will, however, give a message to the rest of the world that the country is on the path of strengthening its IP regime. Foreign investors and businesses will also consider it as a positive factor.