Monday, June 27, 2011

Trademark Logo Goes Up in Smoke To Save Australians? Let's Check The HK-Australian Bilateral Investment Treaty

How to warn people
against blindness who
 cannot do not want to see?
Cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris was not amused when Australia announced last November 2010 that it would prohibit brand logos on cigarette packets, to prevent exposure to children that might be lured to the flames of eternal damnation. Smoking kills 15,000 deaths in Australia each year.

According to the BBC: "Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said "glitzy designs on packets" attracted children to smoking and it made sense to look at "less attractive packaging". Read here. As you can see the substitute for the
brand logo is less than attractive, unless you are a masochist. So "plain packaging law" as the Australian law is described is quite a euphemism.

The proposed ban would be implemented in 2012, and made the cigarette manufacturers worry that this would jeopardise their financial health. 

Philip Morris Brands: Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Merit, Parliament, Benson & Hedges, L&M, Chesterfield, Lark, Cambridge, Basic

If a cigarette manufacturer such as Philip Morris can no longer use their trademarked logos on its cigarette packets (including the heraldry with the slogan "veni-vidi-vice", which is Ceasar's phrase meaning I came, I saw and I conquered) it becomes more difficult to distinguish its brand of cigarettes from other brands of cigarettes. The personality of the brand, the carefully cultivated associations with the brand, will partly go up in smoke. Then again all Philip Morris' competitors deal with the same problem. Cigarette manufacturers such as Philip Morris and British Tobaccco, that have advertised for decades to gain name recognition and brand associations will probably lose relatively more market share than more generic brands.

But can Australia really prohibit the use of trademarked logos and only allow the trademarked brand name on a packet full of warnings?

According to a BBC article, Philip Morris Asia, based in Hong Kong, is now considering a case against Australia for violating the Bilateral Investment 'Agreement between the Governments of Hong Kong and Australia for the Promotion and Protection of Investments' signed in 1993, see here

Intellectual property rights falls, according to article 1 (e) iv of the Bilateral Investment Treaty, within the scope of the definition of investment ("intellectual property rights including rights with respect to copyright, patents, trademarks, trade names, industrial designs, trade secrets, know-how and goodwill").

The first sentence of article 6 (1) of the Bilateral Investment Treaty is: "Investors of either Contracting Party shall not be deprived of their investments nor subjected to measures having effect equivalent to such deprivation in the area of the other Contracting Party except under due process of law, for a public purpose related to the internal needs of that Party, on a non-discriminatory basis, and against compensation."

This means that Australia cannot subject an investor in Hong Kong to "measures having effect equivalent to such deprivation", such as the prohibition of the use of a trademarked logo on cigarette packets, except for a public purpose related to the internal needs of Australia. To prevent 15,000 people in Australia each year from dying caused by smoking I think falls within this definition. So the exception can only kick-in in case there is a public purpose, check, and compensation for the expropriation of the use of the logo.

Claimant = company       respondent = state
Bilateral Investment Treaties can be a vehicle for companies to get a binding tribunal judgement against a non-compliant state via for example the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. In case a company wanted to change a law or regulation in a state that is not in compliance to the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), it could lobby its government to bring the case to the Dispute Settlement panel of the World Trade Organization, (which was done collectively by the copyright industries for example in case of DS 362) which is a less direct and less efficient route for a company to take. 

Interested in Bilateral Investment Treaties?
This time I wrote about Bilateral Investment Treaties because it touches upon the protection of intellectual property rights and Hong Kong. At the Chinese University of Hong Kong there are, however two experts in this field who deal with the subject in a broader sense. Professor Bryan Mercurio, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has written extensively about the subject. For example two books: 'Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements: Commentary and Analysis' (Cambridge University Press, 2009)(edited with Simon Lester) 'Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements: Case Studies' (Cambridge University Press, 2009)(edited with Simon Lester). This year the following book chapter will be published about a particularly fascinating region: Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements in Asia: A Sceptic’s View’ in Ross Buckley, Richard Hu and Douglas Arner (eds), The Economic and Financial Integration of East Asia (Edward Elgar, forthcoming 2011). See more of Professor Mercurio's publications here.

Another expert is Professor Julien Chaisse (CUHK), who specialises in Foreign Direct Investments, and therefore also writes about Bilateral Investment Treaties: 'Do bilateral investment treaties increase foreign direct investment flows - Revisiting the role of legal parameters in economic empirical research’ as co-investigator with Prof. Christian Bellak (Forschungsprojekt ‘Vielfalt von Bilateralen Investitionsverträgen‘), supported by the Vienna University of Business and Economics (WU) & Arbeitskammer Vienna (Austria) (March 2010-March 2012). See more of Professor Chaisse's publications here.


Anonymous said...

Since when was Andrew Lansley health secretary of both the UK and Australia?


IP Dragon said...

Andrew Lansley is exclusively secretary of state for health of the UK (

Interestingly it was he who was quoted by the BBC. And maybe he is contemplating similar measures in the UK, considering this statement.