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Last year, there were several postings on social media about the popularity of PNG’s unique woven bags, the bilum, being sold overseas. One particular question that popped up was about PNG protecting its intellectual property over these bags so that overseas manufacturers would not exploit it. The main concern was that large corporations would manufacture is large volumes and sell them at prices well below the price offered by local sellers. This would put local sellers out of business.
The bags are uniquely Papua New Guinean without doubt. But how can Papua New Guineans protect whatever rights they have so as to avoid exploitation by other non Papua New Guineans.
What particular rights do local sellers or sewers have over these bags that would enable them to protect their rights in a court of law? Do they have trademark rights, patent rights, copyright or designs rights over them?
On the face of it, it doesn’t look like the sellers or sewers have any intellectual property rights other than the possible design on the bags. Obviously, this isn’t about trade marks. It’s unlikely to be patents or designs either. There could be an element of copyright in so far as the designs on the bags are concerned but other than that there’s very little rights that can be protected on these bags which is a grave concern.
It’s a grave concern because most of the sellers and sewers aren’t really well off and making these bags is probably their only revenue source. To take away this source could possibly make life more difficult.
Until a particular intellectual property right is established over these bilums, it’s hard to see Papua New Guineans raising issues of intellectual property infringement over the making and selling of these bags by non-Papua New Guineans.
Perhaps a law should be set-up that could make these bilums a national icon which would require regulatory approval for non-citizens who want to enter the industry. It’s hard to see this being enforced effectively considering that “infringements” could be occurring overseas. There would be jurisdictional issues.
Do you have any suggestions as to how this unique item could be kept truly Papua New Guinean, made by Papua New Guineans for the benefit of Papua New Guineans?