The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations agency, plans to tackle new types of trademark protection for holograms, sounds and smells when it revises a 1994 treaty on global trademarks in Singapore.

More than 400 policymakers and intellectual property rights experts are meeting in Singapore to discuss revising the trademark treaty, the first time WIPO has held an intellectual property conference in Asia.

The talks started on Monday and will last for about three weeks.

"The treaty sets a framework for defining the reproduction of non-visible signs -- audio signs such as the MGM lion's roar, or a smell mark, the scent for a given product," Marcus Hopperger, Director of the WIPO's trademark and law division, said on Tuesday.

These types of "non-traditional" trademarks have become more and more frequent, Hopperger said, but they are far from being universally accepted for registration.

Distinction necessary

Hopperger said that, for example, a recent application filed in the European Union for trademark registration for the smell of freshly cut grass used on tennis balls was rejected because the description of the smell was too vague.

A recent application tried to
register smell of freshly cut grass

"The trademark needs to be sufficiently distinctive," Hopperger said.

Companies can apply through WIPO's treaty for international trademarks to protect an invention in several countries at once.

If ratified, the treaty - which was signed by 33 member countries - would simplify the application process for filing national and regional trademark licences and introduce features such as electronic filing.

Ernesto Rubio, WIPO's Assistant Director General, said he was optimistic that more countries would sign the revised treaty, but declined to say who or how many.

Growing importance

However, a burst of patents in China, South Korea and Singapore last year was a sure sign that patent protection was growing in importance, Rubio said.

"Among developing countries, they are by far the largest. In China, more and more companies are adding value to their exports"

Ernesto Rubio,
Assistant Director General, WIPO

Chinese firms sought 44% more international patents in 2005 than the year before.

"China was the eighth-largest filer of patents," Rubio said.

"Among developing countries, they are by far the largest. In China, more and more companies are adding value to their exports."

Though Beijing has come under immense US pressure to tighten its intellectual property and anti-piracy rules at home, the country's large investments in research and development have engendered more corporate interest in patents, WIPO has said.