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News blog25 March 20236 min read

Guest article from Abacus IP - 20 Years of Patent Law in Cambodia: Milestones and Future Outlook

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the Cambodian patent system. Such major milestones are an opportunity to look back on how the law and practice have developed, and discuss what changes we might expect in the decades to come.

When the Law on Patents, Utility Model Certificates and Industrial Designs was signed by King Norodom Sihanouk on January 22, 2003 (official translation is available here), Cambodia was still gradually regaining stability after the end of the civil war barely a decade prior. The economy was overwhelmingly agricultural, with only the beginnings of the garment industry and foreign tourism. Enacting a compliant patent law (as well as other IP laws), was one criteria to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), which Cambodia did on October 13, 2004. Since then, the economy has soared – with GDP growth rates in excess of 7%, Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing over the past two decades. It is expected to graduate from least developed country status in 2027.

While rapid progress has been made over the past 20 years, the Cambodian patent system is still in its early stages. Through 2022, there have been nearly 1600 patent applications filed, of which over 99% were by foreign applicants. Approximately one-third have been granted, with nearly two-third of these being validation of Chinese patents.

In chronological order, we identified the following major milestones in the development of the Cambodia patent system:



Prakas (Declaration) on the Procedure for the Grant of Patents and Utility Model Certificates

After the enactment of the Patent Law in 2003, this implementing regulation set forth crucial details for the functioning of the Department of Industrial Property (DIP), application requirements and examination procedures.



Co-operation with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and Registration of First Patent

While the legal framework had been in place in Cambodia for over a decade and several hundred applications filed, the Registrar lacked the technical capacity to examine and grant them. Less than two months after signing the Memorandum of Understanding on the Co-Operation in Industrial Property between IPOS and the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the first patent was granted in March 2015. In order to take advantage of the co-operation program, the applicant must have first been granted a patent in Singapore. The Singaporean patent must be in force at the time of filing a request for registration in Cambodia. In addition, the patent must have a filing date on or after February 11, 2003.



Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)

Cambodia became the 151st member of the PCT, allowing entry into national phase in Cambodia for international patent applications. The competent international searching authorities include notably the European Patent Office, the Japan Patent Office, the IPOS, the National Intellectual Property Administration of China (non-exhaustive list). Assuming the international search has been carried out by one of these authorities, each may also serve as the competent international preliminary examining authority. If you want to learn more about the PCT, you may download and read the PCT guide of the International IP SME Helpdesk project here.


Acceleration Program for Japanese Patent Applications

Also in 2018, Cambodia entered into a Cooperation for Facilitation Patent Grant with the Japan Patent Office. According to this program, an owner of a registered Japanese patent may request for acceleration of their Cambodian patent application where the Japanese patent application has an earlier filing date (or priority filing date) as the Cambodian application.



Amendment of the Patent Law

Several articles of the Patent Law were amended in October 2017, addressing such issues as international search reports, preliminary examination reports and the conditions for registration under the PCT. To date, this has been the only amendment to the original patent law from 2003.



Validation of Chinese Patents

In March 2018, the DIP began validating Chinese patents under a co-operation agreement with the State Intellectual Property Office of China. Since then, this has become the most favoured route for extending protection to Cambodia, given the economic ties between China and Cambodia and the sheer number of Chinese patents registered. Similarly to the program with IPOS, the Chinese patent must have been granted and be in good order, with a filing date after January 22, 2003 (the date of signature of the Cambodian patent law). As the system is retrospective, all Chinese invention patents, so long as filed after the effective date, are eligible for validation. Design patents and utility models are excluded from the validation system.


European Validation State

Also, on March 1st, 2018, Cambodia became the first country in Asia (and only the fourth globally) to be a European patent validation state. The validation must be specifically requested by the patent owner - the validation agreement does not automatically extend patent protection for all European patents to Cambodia. Validation is possible for both applications filed directly to the European Patent Office, as well as European PCT applications (as long as such European or international application is filed on or after March 1st, 2018). More information about the European validation system here



Recognition of Korean Patents

On November 1st, 2019, the Patent Recognition Program of South Korea and Cambodia was launched, creating another route for foreign rights holders to extend protection to the Kingdom. The Patent Recognition Program created a simplified and accelerated procedure for registering a Cambodian patent corresponding to a South Korean patent. It mirrors an earlier program agreed upon with the Japan Patent Office.



United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Acceleration Program

On October 23rd, 2020, the USPTO and the DIP entered into an agreement for acceleration of Cambodian applications based on US registered patents. The program requirements are similar to those for Japanese and Korean patents.

Looking to the Future

What will the next 20 years of the Cambodian patent system bring? In the near-term, two major improvements can be expected.

The first would be the launch of the long-awaited online database of patent applications and registrations. At present, such information is held solely within the DIP, with limited accessibility. An online database has been in the works with support from WIPO for a number of years now, and would represent a great improvement in the availability and transparency of patent information.

Second, pharmaceutical products are currently not protected under Cambodian patent law. While Cambodia’s membership in the WTO requires states to provide patent protection for pharmaceutical products, it was granted an exemption as a “least-developed country” until 2033. Many applications claiming pharmaceutical products have nevertheless been filed under a “mailbox-rule”, though they will not be examined until the transitional period expires. Whether a further extension of the transitional period will be agreed remains to be seen.

Finally, much of the impetus so far for enactment and development of IP laws in Cambodia was driven by foreign stakeholders. With the diversification of the economy into higher-value manufacturing, services, and a surprisingly vibrant startup-scene in Phnom Penh, a domestic constituency is emerging with an interest in a well-functioning patent system with strong protection for innovators. We are hopeful that the next 20 years of the Cambodian patent system will continue to contribute to the sustainable development of the Kingdom.

Written by David Haskel, Partner of Abacus IP and External Expert of the SEA IP SME Helpdesk.


For more information, readers are directed to the Guide to Patent Law in Cambodia, Guide to patent protection in South-East Asia, and Cambodia IP country factsheet.

The SEA IP SME Helpdesk is an initiative of the European Commission that provides free, practical IP advice to EU SMEs in relation to South-East Asia. EU SMEs can send their IP-related questions to expertatsea-iphelpdesk [dot] eu (expert[at]sea-iphelpdesk[dot]eu) and receive an answer within 3 working days.


Publication date
25 March 2023