https://www.epo.org/en/node/exploring-patent-information-asean-2

Exploring patent information from the ASEAN region

Part IV: Focus on Thailand 

In the fourth and final edition of our series on patent information from the ASEAN region we explore the patent landscape of Thailand. While Thailand is considered one of the emerging economies, it is a rare example of an economy where an imbalance between export and import activities promotes wealth and economic stability.  

Thailand's economy is heavily export-oriented and home to production sites owned by Japanese, US and even Indian automotive manufacturers. This makes Thailand’s economy the second largest in South-East Asia, next to Indonesia. Key factors in Thailand's economic strength are a very young and well-educated work force resulting in a low unemployment rate of just 1.2%; and a fairly recent but growing awareness of intellectual property, meaning that applicants with international applications (PCT applications) can prosecute their application in Thailand too. 

History of patents and IP in Thailand 

Unlike most other countries in the region, Thailand does not have a colonial history. So its patent system emerged fairly recently, with the first patent law implemented in 1979. However, it was only after signing the TRIPS agreement that Thailand introduced amendments to the national patent law in 1999, which paved the way for a modern IP system. Other key milestones include Thailand’s accession to the Paris Convention in 2008 and to the PCT in 2009. Both measures greatly facilitated patent filings from abroad and promoted foreign investment. 

2013 was another important year in the evolution of Thailand's national patent system. It was the year that the Thai government decided to strengthen the national economy with two different strategies, which were both related to patents. Firstly, it decided to be part of the worldwide automotive industry. Secondly, together with the other eight ASEAN intellectual property offices, Thailand introduced a patent work-sharing programme, the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation (ASPEC), to speed up the examination process. 

Characteristics of the Thai patent system 

According to Thai patent law, substantive examination does not start automatically but only after a formal request, which must be submitted by the applicant within five years from the publication of the application – a rather long period compared to other jurisdictions in the region. Within 90 days from publication date, third parties have the opportunity to challenge the application by filing a request for opposition. However, there is no further publication of the document after granting.  

This makes it difficult for patent information users to check the scope of protection after opposition proceedings in the event that the application remains in force in an amended form. This combination of an extended period of uncertainty - as to whether a patent will be granted and which claims are in force - make freedom to operate opinion searches for Thailand a daunting task.  

Another characteristic of Thai patent law is the "use requirement". If a patent owner has not commercially exploited the invention within three years from granting or four years from filing (whichever date is later), third parties may directly apply to the Thai patent office (DIP) for forced licensing. 

Thai patent landscape 

As in other jurisdictions covered in this series, most patents are filed by non-nationals (Fig. 1) in Thailand. So it is no surprise that the largest share of applications are PCT filings that enter the national phase in Thailand (see Figure 2).  

Filings according to origin of applicant.Fig. 1: Filings according to origin of applicant. Source: WIPO Statistics Data Centre. 

Filings according to their entry route.Fig. 2: Filings according to their entry route. Source: WIPO Statistics Data Centre. 

One reason for the low number of resident filings is most likely the financial aspect. Many Thai applicants choose a more inexpensive way of protecting their invention by filing an application for a petty patent. Comparable to utility models in other countries, petty patents are cheaper and easier to obtain than patents.  

Searching Thai patent data 

Even though we can find only a handful of national first filings in the EPO databases, this does not pose a significant problem for prior art searches. As most filings in Thailand originate from an international (PCT) filing and many national filings also have family members, the searcher will automatically search the family members too.  

On the other hand, the EPO's databases offer complete coverage of the international publications (WO documents) of all PCT applications that have been filed by Thai applicants. Figure 4 shows the evolution of PCT filings by Thai applicants submitted to the DIP as the Receiving Office.  

PCT applications with Thai priority.Fig. 3: PCT applications with Thai priority. Source: WIPO Statistics Data Centre. 


PCT applications by Thai residents can be searched and retrieved in Espacenet (see Figure 5). They provide a good overview of the innovation landscape in Thailand.  

Searching WO publications based on a Thai priority in Espacenet.Fig. 4: Searching WO publications based on a Thai priority in Espacenet. 


Outlook 

Thailand is a country focused on economic strength, so its patent system will need to reflect developments in patent law amendments in other patent jurisdictions, as recently seen in Malaysia, and accelerate the patent prosecution procedure. Patent applications in Thailand - whether filed by non-residents or residents through the PCT or the national route – paint a picture of a very young, innovative and export-oriented patent landscape.  


Keywords: Thailand, ASEAN, PCT, patent system