Trinidad and Tobago: Intellectual Property Legislation Update - M. Hamel

Last Updated: 7 May 1998
The rapid liberalisation of Trinidad and Tobago's economy has created significant business opportunities and made it important for many more foreign businesses to secure their valuable intellectual property rights in Trinidad and Tobago.

As part of this process, Trinidad & Tobago signed the Trade Mark Law Treaty (TLT) in October 1994, the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs) Agreement and entered into a Bilateral Agreement with the Government of the U.S. concerning the protection of Intellectual Property Rights.

To comply with governmental obligations under these agreements, nine pieces of Intellectual Property legislation were proclaimed into law in December 1997.

The Trade marks (amendment) act 1996 amends the law extensively. The most significant features include:

  • a reduction in the duration of registration from 14 years to 10 years from the date of registration, with renewal within 6 months of expiry for further unlimited periods of 10 years;
  • protection of well-known trade marks;
  • strengthening of rights granted to proprietors by registration in preventing infringements of registered marks;
  • widening of the definition of a trade mark to include the packaging of goods or their shape provided the trade mark does not exclusively consist of the shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves.

Priority applications are received provided they are filed within six (6) months of filing in a conventions country.

The Trade marks (amendment) act 1997 provides for amendments to the existing law. The most important include:

  • abolition of the offences in respect of falsification of entries on the register and falsely representing a trade mark as registered; and
  • the introduction of provisions in respect of the monitoring, control and powers of the Customs and Excise Division in dealing with infringing goods.

The registered owner and (in special circumstances) the registered user of a trade mark may give to the Comptroller of Customs and Excise notice of an objection to any importation of goods manufactured outside Trinidad and Tobago that infringe its trade mark.

On receipt of this notice, the Comptroller has the power to:

  • order the seizure of the imported goods; and
  • request the importer to produce documentation relating to the goods and to supply information about the party by and to whom the goods were consigned once satisfied that the use of a trademark in relation to the imported goods is fraudulent.

If an importer intentionally or recklessly fails to comply with such a request within a given period, he will be guilty of an offence and may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to six months.

The Protection Against Unfair Competition Act, 1996 regulates unfair competition and trade secrets within a commercial or industrial setting. It codifies, to a large extent, the common law principles in relation to the torts of breach of confidence and passing-off and substantially extends the form of relief available by an action for passing-off. The Act is expected to further encourage international businesses to establish themselves and compete in Trinidad & Tobago.

The criteria within the industrial or commercial sphere against which unfair competition will be measured include acts or practices:

  • that cause or are likely to cause confusion regarding another's enterprise, especially with respect to products or services offered by that enterprise;
  • that are likely to damage goodwill or reputation regardless of whether such acts or practices cause confusion;
  • that can mislead the public; and
  • those that can discredit another's enterprise or activities.

The Geographical Indications Act, 1996 is intended to provide protection to geographical indications that are used to designate a product that originates from a particular region and whose quality, reputation or characteristics are essentially attributable to that region, and other related matters.

A number of exclusions exist and these are not afforded protection under the Act, e.g. those geographical indications that do not correspond to the definition within the Act, and those which have fallen into disuse in their country of origin.

The Patents Act 1996 significantly changes the previous patent system both as to procedure and substantive law. Inventions must now satisfy the criteria of novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability.

The standard for determining novelty is based on universal novelty and must not form part of the 'state of the art' criteria. An invention is deemed to involve an inventive step once it is not obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art. The period of protection of a patent under this Act is twenty (20) years without the possibility of extension.

The Act makes provision for the issue of a utility certificate which affords protection to an owner of a useful innovation who may otherwise be unable to meet the strict requirements to obtain a patent certificate. As a result of Trinidad & Tobago's accession to the Patent Co-operation Treaty, PCT applications may now be filed.

The Copyright Act, 1997 protects literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works irrespective of their mode or form of expression, as well as their content, quality and purpose provided that such works are original. Protection is also afforded to computer software and databases.

The Act extends the right of copyright owners. It also widens the definition of copyright previously existing under the 1985 Act to include specific reference to works of 'mas'. The duration of copyright protection has been increased in the majority of works from 50 to 75 years. The new law also provides increased financial penalties and terms of imprisonment for violation of copyright.

The Industrial Designs Act, 1996 revises the law relating to the protection of designs. The significant features in this Act include the addition of the aesthetic quality to the definition of "design" and the exclusion from protection of any feature in the design engineered to obtain exclusively a technical result.

Designs are afforded protection provided they satisfy the requirements of universal novelty and conformity with public order and morality. The Act, however, permits a grace period of one year preceding filing should disclosure of the design occur within this period.

Priority may be claimed provided an application for the same industrial design is filed within six months of filing in a conventions country. The period of protection is 5 years from the date of the filing, and renewal for two further 5 year periods is permissible upon payment of the statutory fee.

The Layout-Designs (Topographies) of Integrated Circuits Act, 1996 protects layout-designs of integrated circuits against reproduction, importation, sale or other distribution in a commercial setting. The term of protection is 10 years calculated either from the date of first commercial exploitation or in the absence of such, from the filing date.

The Protection of New Plant Varieties Act 1997 provides protection in the form of plant breeders rights in respect of new plant varieties and related matters. Protection is afforded to a variety under the Act provided it is new, distinct, uniform and stable. There are three separate periods of protection relative to different species of plants ranging from eighteen years to twenty-five years.

Editor's Note: Further information on the Intellectual Property regime in Trinidad & Tobago is available from our website - Please Click Contact Link

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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