NEW YORK - Statement from Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of the International Trademark Association, in response to the October 31, 2018, announcement by Singapore’s Ministry of Health to introduce standardized packaging with enlarged graphic health warnings on all tobacco products sold in Singapore:
The International Trademark Association (INTA) is very concerned about the decision on October 31, 2018, by the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) to introduce standardized packaging on tobacco products, preventing brand owners from displaying logos and brand images on product packaging according to the official website of INTA.
INTA strongly believes that governments must take a well-informed and balanced approach to this issue, and consider in addition to health and safety concerns a broad range of public policy matters, including the contribution of intellectual property (IP) to economic growth. While INTA commends efforts by governments to address public health concerns, Singapore’s leaders need to weigh these concerns against both the highly negative effects of standardized packaging on consumers and trademark owners, and the strategically important area of IP for the future of Singapore’s economy.
Trademarks create tremendous economic value for the Singaporean economy. Research published by INTA indicates that trademark-intensive industries in Singapore contribute to 50 percent of its gross domestic product, 60 percent of exports, and 29 percent to overall employment. Trademarks bring direct value to companies in Singapore, in particular to small-to-medium-size enterprises, where trademarks are often the first and most valuable IP asset.
Standardized packaging is also an open invitation to bad actors to flood Singapore’s marketplace with counterfeit products. How does this happen? By making packaging simple and uniform, the currently complex techniques of packaging will be easier to produce. This in turn lowers the barriers of entry for criminals to enter this market and increases their profit margins while, at the same time, negatively impacting legitimate trade.
Such regulatory actions also put at risk the economic value of trademarks in other industries. While the Singaporean government has yet to indicate its intent to consider brand restrictions on products beyond tobacco, the “slippery slope” of such restrictive policies, which overlook the fundamental role of trademarks in the marketplace and economy, is a reality. Indeed, many national health ministries around the world are now considering—and in some cases already enacting—similar legislation for food and beverage products to address “non-communicable diseases.”
For decades, Singapore has been a leader in Southeast Asia in promoting economic growth through innovation and the protection of IP to better serve its citizens. Singapore’s government should not lose sight of its long-term strategy and objectives. Rather, it should modify the MOH proposal so as to channel resources into greater education about health and wellness, and to strengthen Singapore’s reputation as an IP champion.