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Local firms urged to stay proactive in intellectual property protection

Vietnamese companies have enjoyed fruitful opportunities in an open digital economy. However, weak management of intellectual properties has hindered their chance to be more competitive in the global market.

An open digital economy has allowed Vietnamese creative businesses to introduce innovative ideas to the world, however, limited understanding of intellectual property protection (IPP) has put them at a disadvantage against foreign players.

 Vietnamese firms must undertake measures to protect their brands before introducing the products to international markets. Photo: Minh Son

The recent conflict between the Hanoi-based content creator Sconnect Vietnam Investment Technology and Services Co. Ltd. (Sconnect) and the London-based Entertainment One UK Ltd. has proved that Vietnamese companies have not prepared to deal with the unlicensed use of the images and brands that are their creations.

Sconnect introduced Wolfoo, an animated wolf character, in 2018. The animation videos have been watched by about 50 million followers on YouTube, with an average of two billion views each month. Wolfoo videos are available in many countries, including the UK, the US, Russia, Spain, China, and Japan.

However, since late 2021, Sconnect has had trouble playing Wolfoo videos on media platforms. According to the company’s director Ta Manh Hoang, the London-based company Entertainment One has illegally tagged the brand Wolfoo on their videos.

The British company has reportedly requested YouTube to block Sconnect’s Wolfoo videos for copyright infringement. Director Hoang of Sconnect said his company had filed a request to YouTube to unblock their channel. However, the media platform has yet had any action.

In a recent filing to the Hanoi People’s Court and the National Competitiveness Committee, Sconnect estimates that the shutdown has resulted in losses of $1.1 million. The Vietnamese company has brought the case to the English court after winning in Russia against Entertainment One.

Hoang said that Wolfoo is not only an animated character but also the center of a digital ecosystem.

The incident has set back Sconnect's operations and its cooperation with partners, costing the company a great deal in terms of lawsuits to protect its interests, he said.

Sconnect and Wolfoo are typical examples of how IPs of Vietnamese firms are stolen, Hoang said.

“Vietnam has its own rules for such problems, but it is hard to apply them on cross-border platforms, and there are no tools to protect local businesses in the digital world,” Hoang said.

He suggested that the government should improve existing regulations to suit the functional conditions of the digital economy.

"There should be mutual agreements between Vietnam and other nations for Vietnamese laws to be enforced abroad," he said.

Tran Le Hong, Deputy Director of the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam under the Ministry of Science and Technology, said Vietnamese companies must have instruments to protect their brands.

“Local businesses should register their trademarks and property rights in overseas markets,” he said. “The registration process is straightforward and low-cost.”

Local companies should have clear and professional approaches that affirm trademarks and brands before introducing products to the market, Hong suggested.

"It is almost impossible for Vietnamese entities to request foreign media platforms, such as YouTube, to unblock a certain video," he said.

Lawyer Ha Thi Kim Lien said that digital companies always focus on developing sale plans after product development is finished, not IP protection.

Therefore, she said it is hard for a Vietnamese business to protect its interests when it comes to conflict with another company in overseas markets.