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Industrial Property

Insurance against theft

The government discloses ut a list of 3,000 Brazilian vegetal species in order to avoid the misappropriation of their names abroad


Patents and brand name registration offices in various countries will receive a software program with a list of 3,000 scientific names of traditional vegetal species in Brazil, such as cacao, physic nut, umbu, cajá, Cupuacu, passion fruit, assai, acacia, Brazilian pine, erect tropical daisy and Ocotea longifolia Kunth. The objective is to avoid the registration of brands of products typically Brazilian by companies with bad faith, which block the access of the country to the international market. The list is the result of two years of work by the Inter-Ministerial Group for Intellectual Property (Gipi in the Portuguese acronym), which brings together representatives from eight ministries. The idea of creating an index of national species sprung up after a judicial battle fought by the Brazilian government against the Japanese company Asahi Foods, which managed to register the brand Cupuacu and block the sale of Brazilian products made with the tropical fruit of exquisite taste in the markets of Japan, the United States and Europe. Whoever wanted to use the name had to pay a levy to the Japanese company. A partnership between the Brazilian diplomatic service and environmental organizations managed to cancel the registration in the Japanese justice system, but the case highlighted the need to guard against new attacks.

In possession of the list of 3,000 names, the Intellectual Property Offices can then know if there is any misappropriation of the names commonly associated with the extensive biodiversity in Brazil when a request is called for. “All of the Intellectual Property Offices respect the natural names or common names as not to be registered as brand names within those categories to which they refer. One is not dealing with an innovation in the legislation, but additional information that will allow for the registration exam to be well executed”, says Roberto Jaguaribe, the president of the National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI). “The interest is mutual. We want to avoid that markets are closed to our products. On the other hand the Intellectual Property Offices have the mission of preventing  that their consumers are obliged to purchase products from companies that obtained abusive exclusivity to a right”, he advised. The report will also be sent to international organs such as the World Organization for Intellectual Property (Ompi) and the World Organization for Commerce (OMC).

The Gipi list was presented on the 22nd of May, the world day for biodiversity, but its effects are linked more towards the respect of industrial property than that of the prevention of biopiracy. The report with the names limits itself to vegetable species, which effectively have a commercial value. “In the cases of specific animals, the commercial value of their names is reduced or insignificant”, says Roberto Jaguaribe. An analysis of the names shows that the concept of Brazilian biodiversity is elastic. Within are listed names of species of enormous commercial interest that are not native to Brazil, such as is the case of coffee. In the end, the list restricts itself to the registration of brand names and does not have any usefulness, for example, to confront denouncements of improper patenting, such as the registration by an American company of the two main active ingredients, an analgesic and the other a vasodilator, removed from the secretion of an Amazonian frog. The company extracted the substances from the animal and patented them, then went on to produce them synthetically.

The list contemplates 3,000 scientific names of vegetable species, which unfold into around 5,000 common names and their variations – such as sweet cassava, cassava, and manioc. In some cases it contains the names in English of the species. “This can also help the examiner’s work in foreign brand names”, explains Manuel Lousada, the temporary secretary for Industrial Technology at the Ministry of Industrial and Commercial Development (MDIC). It is estimated that less than one hundred species are under the risk of improper appropriation. But, as the list will serve as an element of defense in lawsuits, the Gipi decided to make a wider report, capable of anticipating the problems that today cannot be glimpsed. Within the report there are listed the names of bromeliads, of grapes and of medicinal herbs. “With greater and greater participation by Brazil in international commerce, the tendency is towards falsifications of our known brand names”, says  Roberto Jaguaribe.

The Brazilian initiative has precedence in Peru, which has already mounted a similar data bank and has created a commission to investigate the registration of products of its biodiversity in band name and patent offices in Europe, Japan and the United States. Around 500 registrations were identified. The minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, announced during the launch of the list that the ministry now pretends to amplify the discussion with other neighboring countries linked to the Cooperation Treaty of Amazonian Countries Organization (Otca). “It’s not only us who have the carap nut. Other Amazonian countries also have it”, says Marina.