MSMEs told to consider their brand as a “vulnerable asset,” get IP protection

A company's brand is a "valuable asset" that requires intellectual property (IP) protection, especially with e-commerce booming and IP violations on the rise, a panel of experts reminds micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Atty. Rowel Barba, director general of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), in an online forum last month urged companies to ensure IP protection for their brand because it is "an asset with economic value."

He noted the rise in notifications of IPO violations in the first half of the year amid the lockdowns and COVID-19 pandemic. IPOPHL has received 80 reports and complaints in the first semester of 2020, "which is already 66% higher than the 47 reports we received for the entire 2019."

He appealed to consumers to patronize local original products and "our legitimate MSMEs and businesses who are crying for help and support from the consuming Filipinos" in this time of pandemic.

Atty. Anthony Bengzon, IP lawyer at the Bengzon, Negre, Untalan law firm, stressed in the same e-forum that "brand" is not just about the company name, trademark and logo.

Your brand encompasses a lot more, he said, and can include components such as products, business cards, letterheads, presentations, advertising, social media, word of mouth, customer service, uniforms, and packaging.

He further suggests that MSMEs conduct an "audit" of these brand components in terms of how well they are protected online. He also recommends the creation of a dedicated brand marketing and protection team to shield these components from the many threats existing online.

Bengzon added that IP protection is crucial because it is harder to monitor counterfeit products online since "you don't have a physical address or store to go after."

Ma. Sherill Quintana, homegrown-brand advocate and president of Oryspa Spa Solutions, lamented that many MSMEs fail to appreciate the importance of protecting and valuing their brand, focusing instead on issues such as pricing, production, and delivery.

She agreed that a company's brand is an asset that can help MSMES grow and scale up their operations, go into franchising, and enter export markets.

She advised MSMEs to seek IP protection and build their brand's equity, which is the commercial value derived from consumer perception of the product's brand name, rather than from the product itself.

For her part, Ma. Alegria Sibal-Limjoco, chair of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), called on MSMEs to register their brands with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The WIPO is a United Nations agency that provides global IP registration and protection services across different countries.

Limjoco explained that brands have to be protected because they can be even more valuable than other properties since they can bring in "billions" in sales.

Many micro companies have become success stories in foreign markets because they have IP protection, she said. Conversely, there have also been losers for failing to protect their brand and allowing others to infringe on their rights.

In his presentation, Peter Willimott, senior program officer at WIPO, urged companies to register with the Madrid System, a convenient and cost-effective solution for registering and managing trademarks worldwide.

He added that registering a brand is not just for big companies "but is just as relevant for MSMEs who want to get their brand outside of the Philippines."

"The Philippines is a very important market for Filipino MSMEs, but there's a whole world out there and … if the product or service has popularity in the Philippines then it would be popular in other markets," Willimott said.  --- Philexport News and Features

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