ST25, a high-end rice variety produced in Vietnam, is said to have been registered for trademark protection in the U.S., a trade promotion office told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday evening.
Vu Ba Phu, director of the Trade Promotion Agency under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said that he had heard about the ST25 rice protection registration by some U.S. companies.
But Phu has yet to be able to confirm the accuracy of the information, he added.
If such registration is confirmed to be true, it will be hard for Vietnamese businesses to directly export the ST25 rice to the U.S., Phu claimed.
This case gives a warning to Vietnamese enterprises about protecting their brands abroad, he remarked.
Enterprises should proceed with necessary steps on trademark protection when they ship goods overseas, especially in their key markets, he said.
Nguyen Trung Kien, vice-president of the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), also said he had yet to receive official information about American enterprises having registered for the protection of the ST25 rice trademark in the U.S. market.
The VFA had contacted the group that created the ST25 rice variety as well as some rice businesses for clarification but it has not received any official reply, Kien said.
“We have also kept in touch with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which is said to be the origin of this information, but the ministry said such information is not clear,” said Phu.
“This issue still needs verification before any response is taken by concerned parties, so it is necessary to avoid causing confusion."
This striking report has drawn great attention since the Vietnamese premium fragrant rice ST25 was honored as the best rice variety in the world at the 2019 World’s Best Rice contest.
In last year’s contest, the rice was named the world's runner-up after its Thai rival.
Commenting on this matter, a director of a company specializing in exporting farm produce to the U.S. said that it is not uncommon for Vietnamese products to be registered by foreign enterprises for trademark protection in the U.S..
In the U.S., there are companies or importers that specialize in identifying the best-selling or promising brands of goods exported to the U.S. from other countries, the director said, adding that they will then carry out procedures to register for the protection of such trademarks in the U.S. market to gain a advantage in trade.
“Such registration is not unlawful but it must satisfy many relevant regulations before it is approved," the director said.
"So there are still ways for Vietnamese businesses involved to struggle to reclaim their brands."
“Businesses should register their trademarks in their potential export markets to avoid possible disadvantages or disputes.”
ST24 on the horizon
Meanwhile, Lao Dong (Labor) online newspaper reported on Wednesday that both Vietnamese varieties of ST25 and ST24 have been filed for trademark protection in the U.S by four American enterprises.
That means the exportation of these rice varieties from Vietnam to the U.S. would have to be subject to the approval of the American owners of ST25 and ST24 brands; otherwise, Vietnamese exporters would violate intellectual property (IP) rights over the two products, Lao Dong claimed.
“When exporting any products to any markets, Vietnamese enterprises must register for IP protection of their goods in those markets,” Lao Dong quoted Hoang Minh Chien, deputy director of the Trade Promotion Agency, as saying in an interview.
Currently, the ST24 and ST25 have been registered for IP protection in Vietnam only, Chien said.
In the event that the four U.S. businesses are granted protection over the two rice varieties, Vietnamese exporters must get a nod from these foreign enterprises for shipping such rice to the American market, the official told Lao Dong.
“Or Vietnamese exporters must change the names of such rice,” he said.
"Foreign enterprises act very fast.
"When we still focus on exporting new goods, they may have proceeded with registration of such commodities.”
Speaking to Lao Dong about whether a Vietnamese company may be the fifth registrant for IP protection for the two rice varieties, Chien said this requires a careful review of the records and the relevant provisions of the Law on Intellectual Property.
“Currently, the enterprise that owns the ST24 and ST25 rice brands in Vietnam has yet to contact us, so the progress of the IP registration by the American enterprises remains unknown,” Chien said.
“If they contact us, we may give them more specific consultancy.”
Local agricultural engineer Ho Quang Cua has bred and improved Vietnam’s ST rice varieties for over 20 years.
In 2017, the ST24 rice won second prize at the World’s Best Rice contest in Macau, China.