Business & Tech / Current Affairs

State of Intellectual Property and Copyright in Vietnam

Movie store in Vietnam, credit: geordieb1 on Flickr

It’s hard to tell sometimes, but Vietnam has come a long way in protecting intellectual property. To join the World Trade Organization, Vietnam was required to meet international standards of IP protection. It passed the new IP Law in 2006 and adopted the Berne Convention on copyrights, for example. The result is that today Vietnam has relatively comprehensive set of laws covering most aspects of IP rights.

Briefly, it’s useful to distinguish the different types of rights that fall under the IP umbrella: copyrights include the rights of authors over their creative works, trademarks are unique representative symbols and images, and patents are rights to an invention. Vietnam’s IP laws cover all of these areas extensively and are comparable to many industrialized nations in their sophistication. So you should feel safe bringing your IP into Vietnam now, right?

Well, let’s consider that somewhere around 90% of all software is still pirated according to the Business Software Alliance (compared to an average of 55% in the Asia Pacific region). It’s also still easier to buy pirated DVDs for 10,000 VND at the dozens of movie stores down the street than to find a legitimate DVD anywhere. In fact, the only place I could find a “real” DVD for sale in Saigon was directly from the local cinemas.

What about books? Take a walk down Bui Vien and you can pick up hundreds of badly-photocopied classics for about 50,000 VND. Despite the Berne convention granting authors automatic copyrights in Vietnam (as in you don’t have to register them as these authors undoubtedly did not).

And what’s a person to do when faced with IP infringement? Well, that’s the real problem: enforcement. Basically the only way to get your IP rights enforced in Vietnam is to go to the local authorities in charge of your type of IP (Ministry of Science for patents, Ministry of Culture and Information for copyrights, Market Management Bureau for the fake bag shop down the street) and try to convince them to do something (usually they like raiding the store–it’s cooler). Either that or try to sue them in a Vietnamese court…

Yeah, it’s going to take awhile.

So while Vietnam’s IP laws are strong on paper, which is a very important step, there’s still a long way to go in implementing it. It has only been a few years though, and things have been improving recently so maybe soon we can all feel safe about writing that book or inventing that cool contraption in Vietnam without fear of our intellectual property being violated.

6 responses to “State of Intellectual Property and Copyright in Vietnam

  1. don't you think Intellectual Property works in Vietnam….we don't invent anything so it doesn't make any difference…the cost of making a living is so low….i don't think that people in Vietnam mind any of these issues at this point….Let's focus on more practical realistic issue which is to improve the salary, purchasing power before such issues can be discussed in more meaningful way….Thanks

  2. Harvard Kennedy School in Saigon identified that one of the key reasons why Vietnamese people don't innovate. Customarily, protecting intellectual property basically encourages people to develop their own ideas, and to receive money from them. If their ideas are not protected, people can steal them and profit from them, this prevents people from WANTING to implement new ideas. That's one of the biggest problems that Vietnam faces, and one of the key reasons why we don't see very many new products or services coming out of VN.

  3. IP has never been an easy-to-enforce piece of law. Even in developed countries like the US where IP law is much stricter and more complex, enforcing IP protection (like one would compare to enforcing law against theft) is still a headache for both legislators and legitimate IP owners. Moreover, IP literature shows that the link between innovativeness and IP protection is still somewhat controversial, almost like the chicken and egg dilemma. So, for an emerging economy like Vietnam and in the short term view, I do not think IP is (yet) a huge issue for the development of Vietnam (when comparing its relative importance to say physical infrastructure, education and government transparency…), even though it is certainly becoming a concern for international firms that depend heavily on IP protection, and definitely a turn-off for them when considering investing in Vietnam. But one thing to keep in mind is that despite low GDP per capita, Vietnam has a young population that are increasingly status- and brand-conscious. So, I think Vietnam can still attract these companies in its own ways.

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