VietNamNet Bridge - A company in Hong Kong (Viet Huong Company) has registered Phu Quoc fish sauce as its exclusive trademark in Hong Kong, China. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Phu Quoc Fish Sauce proves to be too slow in making reactions to the behavior.
The US press once called Vietnamese Phu Quoc fish sauce a national treasurer which cannot be made in any other places in the world. Meanwhile, the national treasurer is now in the danger of losing into the hands of non-Vietnamese people.
Lawyer Le Quang Vinh from Bross & Partners law firm on September 20, told Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper that the firm accidentally discovered that Hong Kong’s Trading Company Ltd registered Phu Quoc fish sauce as its exclusive trademark.
“On September 15, 2011, I worked out with the Kien Giang People’s Committee on the Phu Quoc geographical indications and suddenly discovered that Phu Quoc fish sauce has been registered in Hong Kong, China.
“The discovery makes us start. Prior to that, when checking information about Buon Ma Thuot geographical indications, we did not find any information relating to the Phu Quoc fish sauce,” he said.
According to Vinh, the application for registering Phu Quoc fish sauce was made on May 1, 2011. The legal entity which registered for trademark protection is Viet Huong Trading Company Limited, a legal entity in Hong Kong. The information about the Phu Quoc trademark registration has been made public, while it is not secret information as people thought.
After discovering this, on September 16, 2011, Bross & Partners sent a notice to the Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association in Kien Giang province to inform about the case. Vinh thinks that the Hong Kong’s Viet Huong Company may relate to a company which once “appropriated” Phu Quoc fish sauce in the US 30 years ago. It was Viet Huong Fishsauce, which got the certificate for trademark registration from the US competent agency in 1982.
On the companies’ fish sauce products made since 1982--one can see the trademark “Phu Quoc fish sauce”, the map of Vietnam and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island. Later, the US company has registered Phu Quoc fish sauce in the EU and Australia as well. Most recently, in 2006, the company got the certificate for Phu Quoc fish sauce trademark in China, with the same trademark sample and logo.
“It is highly possible that this is a company of Vietnamese original people. We think that Viet Huong in Hong Kong is a subsidiary of Viet Huong in the US,” Vinh said.
To date, Bross & Partners has not received any reply from the Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association. “The association has not sent direct reply to us, but through newspapers. I read this morning on a local newspaper that the chair of the association has confirmed she has received the warning on September 17,” Vinh said.
In order to verify the information, Vietnam will have to hire lawyers in Hong Kong and pay fees for this.
What to do?
Lawyers say that if Vietnam is too low in voicing its protest against the registration of Phu Quoc fish sauce, the Chinese competent agencies would provide the certificate on trademark registration.
According to Vinh, it would be easier to claim back the Phu Quoc fish sauce brand than the Buon Me Thuot coffee geographical indication case. Vietnam will just need to send an objection and wait.
Under the Chinese laws, any third party who have evidence to show that the trademark registration may affect their interests and the rights, have the right to send objections. In this case, the Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association, or any member of the association has the right to send objection.
The Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association has been assigned the right to exploit the Phu Quoc trademark and geographical indication. The association also has the legal grounds to grant licenses of using Phu Quoc geographical indications to individuals and companies.
However, the association seems to be too slow in making reactions, which has raised the worry that the certificate for trademark registration would be granted before the objection reaches the competent agencies.