Have you ever seen a bottle of Cold Cola, a “local brand” in Nepal?
If you have not, there is no need to even try as the bottle looks similar to the world-famous Coca-Cola, with a similar brand name designed in a similar way as if intellectual property rights do not exist in Nepal.
These days, you can see various products whose logos and names look similar to the products that are already well-established. Cold Cola is just one example. Other beverages also have their cheap lookalikes in the Nepali market, with almost similar names. Fanta has become Fantu and Funny, Sprite has become Sport and Strike while Mountain Dew has become Maintain Dew.
Recently, the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts organized the National Fine Arts Exhibition. The exhibition rewarded seven of the best arts from seven provinces. Hours later, Umesh Shrestha, a fact-checker, reported on his blog that one of the awardees had copied a Thai painting created nine years ago.
In 2021, Tribhuvan University took action against its seven teaching staff including a professor in a plagiarism case. They had reportedly copied a research paper by a French professor Armel Le Bail in their journal article.
These all incidents show the state of intellectual property rights in Nepal. From a member of the public to university professors, from a homeworker to a business tycoon, everyone is in the same boat when it comes to the violation of intellectual property rights. What frustrates stakeholders more is the level of awareness about the issue is nominal in the country.
Everyone does it
Since the beginning of the last fiscal year (mid-July 2020), the Department of Industry has recorded around 900 offenses related to trademark infringement, a key form of intellectual property rights violation in Nepal.
Of late, the trend of trademark infringement is increasing, says Dipak Ghimire, under-secretary in the law section of the department.
On the other hand, in the last 17 years, Nepal Copyright Registrar’s Office, a government body that works for copyright protection, has recorded 2,029 offenses related to copyright infringement, one of the major offenses under intellectual property rights violation. In the first nine months of the current fiscal year, it has already recorded 127 cases.
“Each year, the office records over 100 offenses related to copyright infringement,” says Lal Bahadur Basnet, the office’s information officer.
Both forms of intellectual property violation are punishable offenses.
According to the Patent, Design and Trademark Act, 1965, if anyone violates the law, they may be punished with a fine not exceeding Rs 100,000 and articles and goods connected with such offenses will be confiscated on the orders of the department as per the gravity of the offense.
Likewise, the Copyright Act, 2002, states the infringer of any protected right shall be punished with a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 100,000 or six months imprisonment or both as per the nature of the infringement. The repetition of the violation will be subject to double the punishment with the seizure of the unauthorized materials.
The key reasons behind increasing intellectual property rights violation cases are a lack of awareness about the issue and illiteracy about original products among consumers, according to officials.
People also want to earn easy money, so they prefer to sell and manufacture something that sounds and looks exactly like a product that is already well established, says Ghimire.
Ghimire also points to weak legal provisions as the fine up to Rs 100,000 is not a big money at present. “Hence, people are liable for committing intellectual property rights violation,” he says.
Ghimire’s argument triggers the need to revise the law, which lawyers looking into such cases agree. They say existing laws are not powerful enough to address the issues related to intellectual property.
Ravi Shankar Chaudhary, an assistant government attorney at Birgunj High Court, says, “The existing laws are not updated well, hence they do not address many new aspects of the cyber sector such as ethical hacking, coding, decoding and others.”
“The laws should be revised, and with that, we need to increase the amount of punishment related to the infringement of intellectual property rights.”
Chaudhary believes that due to the lack of legal research, the parliament has not been able to revise the laws.
Advocate Udayan Regmi, who has a master’s degree in business and international trade law, also echoes Chaudhary.
“Further, the country has also been unable to implement the existing law effectively,” says Regmi. With that, we haven’t been able to recognize and protect the international trademark. ”
If the country does not protect the international trademarks, the multinational companies will be reluctant to run their outlets in our country, he warns.
Similar to Chaudhary, Regmi also urges the concerned body to review the acts related to intellectual property rights.