Viet Nam News
Faced with a lack of national brand identity and growing anxiety over intellectual property (IP) rights laws, Việt Nam may soon have to make drastic changes in business practices, ethics and consumption. Việt Nam News reporter Phương Uyên talked to Nguyễn Thị Phi Nga, lawyer, licensed IP attorney and Counsel at Hogan Lovells International LLP, about the country’s future in IP protection and national brand establishment.
There seems to be growing concern regarding the fact the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has omitted about 20 IP clauses from its previous iteration, due to the US’s absence. Do you think this might slow the formation of an IP rights culture in Việt Nam?
I think the lack of distinct IP related clauses in the CPTPP will not hinder the growth of a national IP culture, due to at least three reasons.
Firstly, looking at the Vietnamese Government’s efforts in asserting IP rights, since joining the World Trade Oganisation (WTO) and other major free trade agreements, namely the EU-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement, the current level of dedication and commitment is not too far behind compared to what the former TPP would have required. We all agree that the Government has been very dedicated to implementing IP rights in Việt Nam, especially in recent years.
Also, Vietnamese firms have increased their understanding of IP, and have taken steps to protect themselves and set up their own brands, albeit with room for improvement. At the moment, domestic firms account for 20 per cent of total registered brand names within Việt Nam, as well as in other countries, with Government-backed promotional programmes aiding local firms in developing their trademarks at home and abroad.
Last, Vietnamese consumers are now more aware of IP rights than ever. I have heard it said that local customers, mostly younger generations, choose their favourite brands based on trends and conspicuous consumption, but I beg to differ. We must see that nowadays consumers are very careful with their selection, even when it comes to big multinational brands. Our consumers do not make purchases simply because of the brands, but rather because such brands guarantee quality, instead of simply showing off to their peers.
Despite locally produced goods, often garments or leatherwear, being exported abroad, there is a lack of Vietnamese brands that are welcomed and trusted by consumers. What are your thoughts on this, do you think we are lacking a national brand identity?
I think that makes sense in some ways. The problem of defining Việt Nam’s brand identity is one of the Government’s top priorities, and there have been efforts by both the State and local firms to develop and protect their brand names. Nonetheless, I personally think such endeavours, though positive, are not enough and that so much more needs to be done.
I think the Government must invest more in helping firms find IP solutions, creativity and human resources development, in order to first establish a well-accepted brand name both domestically and internationally. Meanwhile, firms must be devoted both strategically and financially to this cause, and consumers should show support for trustworthy Vietnamese brands.
I can list VinGroup’s VinEco fresh produce brand as a chief example of firms being universally welcomed in Việt Nam, with virtually no loss of trust on buyers’ part. This clearly means that besides marketing and promotional stunts, quality is the key determinant for a brand’s survival and growth.
Do you think establishing a high level of product quality is firms’ number one concern to earn customers’ trust, and only once this is done, should they start thinking about IP rights, trademarks, or brand identity?
I think this is partly correct, but we all must walk on two feet, because hopping on one alone wouldn’t take you very far, same thing with favouring one leg instead of relying on both equally. I suppose both quality and brand name promotion must come together for firms to grow.
One unfortunate incident was when a Vietnamese firm I would rather not name did not register their trademark designs, and a Japanese firm managed to register and copy their designs to sell them in Japan first. After some legal debates, the Vietnamese firms were allowed to sell their designs in Japan, but they were not entitled to monopoly the trademark. I say this to any firm: you must focus on both quality and trademark protection.
Should the Vietnamese government apply protectionism and issue policies to ensure that locally produced goods are favoured by Vietnamese consumers, to help local firms grow, similar to what Japan and the Republic of South Korea did a few decades ago?
Such things did happen in those countries, but that was before the WTO, free trade deals and economic integration. The historical context has changed, the nature of international trade has shifted, and we simply cannot force that on today’s standards. Furthermore, even if the Government did choose to support local firms by ensuring domestic consumers purchase their goods; this would only be beneficial in the short term. In the long run, this will stunt firms’ growth and will, because they will rely too much on protectionism.
We would also risk disappointing foreign investors and producers, and if they are not satisfied with our Government’s policies, they will simply choose other countries to invest in. I believe consistency in administration, fair treatment and freedom of commerce are needed for future economic development. — VNS