Bureau Intellectual Property is almost there: A moneymaker in the making

POSTED: 06/1/14 11:53 PM

By Hilbert Haar – St. Maarten could have its own Bureau for Intellectual Property by January 1 of next year, if the legislative process moves along smoothly and concluded by November 11. The Council of Ministers approved the draft law on Tuesday and the governor will submit it to Parliament in due time.

The BIP will publish vacancy ads on Monday for a director, a legal policy advisor and an office manager.

Project manager René Mazel said that the new entity will earn its own money from the registration of trademarks and patents. “The BIP will maintain a reserve fund of around $500,000, but the rest of the money goes to the treasury,” he told this newspaper yesterday.

The new entity does not need more staff that the three personnel it is advertising for next week. “The Benelux Bureau for Intellectual Property will do all the work,” Mazel says. “The system is fully computerized.” Minister Ted Richardson who is politically responsible and much in favor of the project, signed the contract with the Benelux bureau during his recent visit to the Netherlands.

With the establishment of its own Bureau for Intellectual Property, St. Maarten will not only make money, it will also be able to serve its clients faster. “In Curacao it takes three months before you get the final confirmation that your trademark has been registered. In St. Maarten we will be able to do this within two weeks,” Mazel says. “It is cost-saving and also faster.”

The first task of the BIP is to register trademarks. After registration, brands are protected for 10 years. After that, brand-owners have to renew their protection. Brands can be registered in 34 categories of goods and 11 categories of services. “You have to choose where you want protection – only local or also elsewhere,” Mazel says with a reference to the website of Wipo, the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Mazel points out that there is a different between trademark law and copyright law. “A trademark is only protected after it has been registered. A work is protected by copyright from the first moment it has been made public.”

Bug-Off, a product that is locally made in Simpson Bay, is for sale everywhere in the Caribbean. The trademark is registered not only in St. Maarten but also in other Caribbean countries, Europe and the United States. “If they want to take their product to Canada, they can also register for protection over there,” Mazel says. “Once you are registered nobody else is allowed to use your brand name.”

The draft legislation for the Bureau for Intellectual Property was submitted to the Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles in 2000. For almost fourteen years, the draft floated in a political no-man’s land. After the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao was last year the first to approve the law. Whether the law will go into effect per January 1 of next year in St. Maarten depends on a few things.

“The Economic Committee of Parliament (under chairman Romain  Laville) has to report about this before the summer,” Mazel says. Then it is possible to get it approved before November 11. The time after that date to January 1 is needed for the approval by the governor and scrutiny by the Ombudsman.”

Once the BIP goes to work, Mazel says, it expects to handle 200 local submissions of trademarks, but there are also around 700 international brands that will seek protection in St. Maarten every year. Altogether this work flow is good for an estimated annual income of $500,000.

From the registration of patents, the bureau will earn an estimated $150,000 per year. Mazel takes medication as an example. “The first three years after registration brand owners do not have to pay anything, but for the next seventeen years they pay, every year a bit more. After twenty years the protection ends, and then others are allowed to produce generic versions of the medication.”

The BIP does not have to do anything to earn its share of the patent fees, because this income is divided automatically by the Kingdom.

With an estimated $350,000 in annual operation costs, the BIP expects to close every year with a surplus. “There is already money in the bank, enough for the projected reserve fund,” Mazel says. “That money stems from what the bureau in Curacao has earned for St. Maarten and from patents.”

If the BIP starts on January 1, 2015, the government could expect to receive the first revenue from these activities in 2016, Mazel says.

Another activity for the BIP will be the issuance of ISBN-numbers for books. “These are unique numbers for books that make it possible to always find them. ISBN-numbers also make it easier to trade in books.”

There is a fourth activity: the registration of any work to be protected by copyright. “As soon as you have shown your creation to the BIP, they register the work and the date you have presented it in a so-called I-envelope. So you will have official evidence of the date you showed your creation to the BIP.”

Mazel was until two-and-a-half year ago the director of Constitutional Affairs and Legislation, a department of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Netherlands. In that function, he was tasked with the transfer of local legislation for the BES-islands to Dutch legislation. “We were convinced that it was not doable to bring the complete Dutch legislation down on these islands,” Mazel says.

Later he was also involved in digitalizing island legislation in St. Maarten. “Those regulations were difficult to find,” he remembers. “Only Louis Duzanson appeared to have an archive and that is what we used. What we could not find, does not exist. Nowadays all the applicable legislation of St. Maarten can be searched on the internet.”

In October 2012, the government opened a public tender for the establishment of the Bureau for Intellectual Property. From a field of eleven candidates, Mazel surfaced as the winner of the bid.

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