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Maltese Competitiveness Minister Highlights IP Issues

by Robert Lee, for, London

26 September 2006

Speaking at the recently-held Marques Annual Conference, the theme of which was ‘Rights in Shining Armour – Sponsoring: Marketing Opportunities And Chellenges For Brand Owners', Malta's Competitiveness and Communications Minister, Censu Galea drew attention to the Island's record on intellectual property protection.

"At the outset, it is worth noting that the protection of intellectual property rights is not something that was introduced in Malta recently. In fact the vesting of rights to intellectual property owners has been possible in Malta since 1911 in respect of Copyright and since 1899 in respect of inventions, trademarks and designs. The first trademark registration in Malta actually took place in 1900. The oldest trademark still in force today was registered by a multinational company in respect of food products in 1926," he revealed, continuing:

"Malta ratified the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1967 and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1964."

"In 1969 Malta ratified the Universal Copyright Convention and in 1977 joined the World Intellectual Property Organisation. In 1994 Malta became a founder member of the World Trade Organisation and was thus bound by the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights as from 2000. That very same year the century old laws governing copyright, patents and trademarks were repealed and replaced by new legislation. In 2002 new legislation concerning design protection was also introduced."

Mr Galea went on to observe that:

"Accession to the European Union in 2004 was another milestone in the development of the Intellectual Property Rights regime in Malta. Apart from the further upgrading of our national IP laws through the transposition of the relevant acquis, accession also enabled Malta to join the Community Trademark system "

Turning his attention to the present day, Mr Galea announced that:

"The number of trademark applications received since the establishment of the national register amounts to 45,000 while the number of registered trademarks which are still active is 28,000. The national office currently receives around 1,500 applications per annum. It is significant, however, to note that as a direct result of joining the Community Trademark System, the number of trademarks valid in Malta shot up dramatically to include the 340,000 community trademarks registered to date, an amount which is set to grow by about 80,000 CTMs annually. This means that when applying for a local trademark, in order to avoid conflict one must not only bear in mind the national register but also the Community Trademark Register. Conversely, those seeking a Community Trademark should not forget the national register to avoid possible oppositions and invalidations at a later stage."

"There is no doubt that having the possibility of acquiring such rights is a must if Malta is to be attractive for business and foreign direct investment in particular. Companies wanting to invest in a business venture want to rest assured that there is the necessary legal infrastructure to prevent others from taking a free ride at their expense. Nevertheless, having such rights on paper is not enough. There must be the capability of enforcing them."

"Our laws provide for civil action, criminal action and cross border measures. Today the main threat is the ease of copying intellectual property as a result of digitisation and readily available equipment. This can only be curbed by vigilant internet surveillance and encrypting of products to prevent copying. However, one has to call a spade a spade. This is a very hard battle to win as pirated goods flood the world and, through the internet, bypass borders."

"Border control, on the other hand, is a success story. During these past few years the Malta Customs have been active and extremely successful in withholding counterfeit goods at border mostly intended for other countries. In addition, immediate legal action is taken locally, when infringements are discovered."

The Minister continued:

"Obviously having the laws and the infrastructure is not enough. It is imperative that all the stakeholders are made aware of their rights, of their obligations to respect other people’s rights and the possibility of legally using licensed and unlicensed intellectual property. To this end, the Commerce Division within my Ministry last year distributed thousands of leaflets to businesses encouraging them to contact the Division’s Industrial Property Directorate for advice on how best to protect their rights, and in addition the Division held meetings with several stakeholders and participated in several seminars on topical issues in the area. This year the Division has already made presentations to local craftsmen and to the Malta Forum fl-Ewropa, as well as four IP workshops for general stakeholders and 1 for over 200 students."

"It is here worth noting that the Commerce Division is also coordinating an EU funded project in this area entitled Intellectual Property Training, Awareness and Enforcement. This project is divided in two parts: a Twinning Light Contract for institution building, and a Service Contract for an Information Campaign."

"One of the main goals of this project is to strengthen the alliance between the Commerce Division and the other main players active in the field of Intellectual Property in Malta. These include Customs, Police and Attorney General’s Office. Officials at the Commerce Division have also been given training as trainers of IP and this has resulted in the IP workshops that have so far been carried out and which will continue to be carried out since there is a demand for knowledge and information on IP from the local stakeholders. As part of this project, the experts also conducted workshops with the Customs and Police on the latest technologies used in the identification of counterfeit goods."

"The second part of this project is the creation and launching of an information campaign on IP aimed at the general public and SMEs in particular. This campaign will strive to bring the notion of IP into all homes, offices and higher level educational institutions in Malta and Gozo. The scope is to render the Maltese public more aware of the subject of IP and to create an understanding for the need to protect one’s own creations and to respect those of others. This campaign is in fact to be launched next week."

Ending his speech to delegates, Mr Galea announced that:

"In conclusion, I would like to point out that EU accession has provided Malta with the opportunity to be actively involved in the policy decisions taken in this very important area. Over the years Malta has taken various steps forward in the field of Intellectual Property Rights and I am sure that with the participation of all the stakeholders involved we will continue to register positive developments which reflect the modern day needs of business and the civil society."

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