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IP & SMEs in ASEAN: Why intellectual property rights matter for local SMEs

Every year since 2000, the World Intellectual Property Day has been celebrated on 26 April to promote the importance of intellectual property (IP) and the advantages of owning IP rights (IPRs). IP Offices, government agencies, international organisations, companies, law firms and individuals will participate in this day’s 2021 celebration under the banner ‘IP & SMEs: Taking your ideas to market’.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 99% of all businesses in the European Union (EU) and more than 50% of Europe’s Gross domestic product (GDP). There are more than 100 million employees combined in the 25 million European SMEs.[1]

Likewise, SMEs also contribute tremendously to the economy of another region across the globe: Southeast Asia. In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) represent 88.8% to 99.9% of all businesses. SMEs account for 30% to 53% of each Member States’ GDP and between 51.7% and 97.2% of total employment in ASEAN[2]. As in Europe, SMEs are also the backbone of the ASEAN economy.

Intellectual property right (IPR) protection benefits large companies and SMEs alike. Intellectual property (IP), a set of intangible assets building on human creation and innovation, can range from literary or visual works, pieces of sound and music and different kinds of commercial marks, designs that combine aesthetics and functions, products that are linked to geographical areas, plant varieties and even trade secrets. IP can be registered and legally protected by various types of IPRs, including copyright and related rights, trade marks, industrial designs, geographical indications (GIs), plant variety protection and even the protection of trade secrets. With fewer revenues, production capacity, number of employees, and import/export ability[3], SMEs are more prone to encounter unfair competition and financial vulnerability. Consequently, they can greatly benefit from an efficient IPR protection scheme.

IPRs can help SMEs protect and generate value from their creations, making sure that they don’t miss out on commercial opportunities. Trade marks, for example, allow them to distinguish their brands from others and promote their products’ quality, safety, originality, genuineness, and attractiveness among potential consumers. Trade marks will, therefore, prevent consumers from confusing their creations with others in the market. Nowadays, it is also essential that companies protect their technological advancement, innovations and tools that support digitisation, such as icons and graphical user interfaces (GUIs). As for GIs, which link a product to a specific geographical area, this type of protection helps local producers increase their competitiveness for the benefit of the community as a whole.

On a larger scale, their increased competitiveness, business growth and expansion potential could play a crucial role in the local, national, regional, and global economies. SMEs help commercialise traditional wisdom and innovations, thereby contributing to GDP and employment, increasing cross-border trade opportunities, and even contributing to bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, SMEs have increased efforts to keep their businesses up and running against the drastic decrease in revenues. IPR protection and effective regulations covering e-commerce can contribute to the success and survival of SMEs’ during the pandemic when mobility is not encouraged. SMEs will gain more confidence in creating products and services and selling them offline and online if they know that their intellectual property rights are protected. In addition, consumers need to be aware of the value of intellectual property to guarantee the safety and quality of products, then SMEs will less likely be hurt by IP infringers. Public awareness, therefore, can play a crucial part in IPR protection and support SMEs as well as ASEAN economies during the pandemic and beyond.

To celebrate the World IP Day 2021 and highlight the ASEAN SMEs’ ever-increasing potential, the EU-funded programme ARISE+ IPR presents a series of local SMEs’ success stories to underline how IPRs can help increase their business growth and potential expansion. Stay tuned to read the interviews on our website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Happy World IP Day 2021 to all!

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