By Gedeona Maduro, Martina Everts-Anthony and Ramses Petronia, Bureau for Intellectual Property, Curaçao
The small island of Curaçao lies some 65 kilometers north of the coast of Venezuela, has around 160,000 inhabitants, and boasts a sunny, warm climate all year round and some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet.
You may also have heard of its world-famous liquor, Blue Curaçao, made from the dried peel of the Laraha citrus fruit, which grows on the island.
But beyond its welcoming climate and heady liquor, Curaçao also enjoys a long tradition of trademark protection. This year, it is celebrating 125 years of trademark history, and the fact that it was one of the first in the region to establish a fully operational trademark registration system.
Curaçao’s first trademark application is dated January 20, 1893. It was submitted by Mr. Abraham Mendez Chumaceiro on behalf of Mignot & De Block, a Dutch producer of tobacco products, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands which sought to register the “Maria Cristina” mark for cigars. As Curaçao fell under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at that time, the application was processed in line with Dutch trademark law, which first came into effect in the Netherlands on January 1, 1881, and was amended on September 30, 1893. This first trademark application was based on the first legal instrument on trademarks of Curaçao, an ordinance dated February 12, 1881.
Just months after the submission of its first trademark application, a new Royal Decree dated November 9, 1893, established the entry into force of a new trademark law for Curaçao.
While the first trademark registration has lapsed, Curaçao’s trademark register still features the trademark “Vinolia”. It was first registered by the Vinolia Company Limited of London, on December 30, 1901 and is still valid today, highlighting the enduring commercial value of trademark rights. The products covered by the trademark registration included among others, soap and candles. Vinolia soap was used by first class passengers on the RMS Titanic and the RMS Queen Mary. The trademark has been managed on behalf of its owner by the same Curaçao-based company, G.A. Winkel Sr. Inc., since its initial registration in 1901. The mark is currently owned by Unilever.
How is it, then, that trademark protection took hold in such a small and remote, albeit beautiful, island?
The answer lies in the twists and turns of Curaçao’s colonial history. Trade has played an important role on the island since it was conquered by the Dutch West India Company in 1634. For more than a century, the island served as a transit hub for seafarers from all corners of the globe. And following the abolition of slavery in 1863, trade, agriculture and fishery became the mainstays of its economy. Moreover, the island’s close political ties with the Kingdom of the Netherlands meant that political, legal and technological developments in Europe rippled down and shaped the local economy, including in the area of intellectual property.
Curaçao’s trademark law emerged at the height of the industrial revolution. Technological advancements brought about significant improvements in global communications and boosted international trade at an unprecedented rate. To support global economic expansion, international policymakers concluded two major international agreements which remain in effect today. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to join the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1883 and the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks a few years later, in 1891. The Netherlands joined the Paris Convention on March 20, 1883, and the Madrid Agreement on March 1, 1893. As Curaçao was a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, businesses on the island benefited from these historic international developments.
These international agreements sought to promote innovation, market order, economic growth and business development.
The Paris Convention, for example, introduced the idea of reciprocity at the international level. Under provisions governing “national treatment,” the Convention requires member countries to grant the same protection to nationals of other contracting states as it grants to its own nationals. Similarly, it establishes the right of priority with respect to patents, utility models (where they exist), marks and industrial designs. This means that when an applicant has filed an application in one member country, he or she has a certain time period within which to apply for protection in any other member country, with all subsequent applications considered as if they had been filed on the same date as the first application. In practical terms, this gives applicants more time to decide in which jurisdictions they wish to seek protection for their intellectual property. The Paris Convention also sets out a number of common rules, again to help create a competitive landscape in which legitimate businesses may thrive.
Similarly, the Madrid Agreement spawned the development of the Madrid System (now governed by the 1989 Protocol to that Agreement) which now includes 101 members, covering 117 countries. That system offers businesses a cost-effective and user-friendly means of registering and managing their trademark portfolios internationally.
The registration of the Maria Cristina trademark signals the dawn of trademark protection in Curaçao; a system that has helped support the island’s economy for some 125 years. Trademark protection has proven to be a cornerstone of the economy of this small but strategically-located Caribbean island. Ready access to trademark registration services enables companies at home and abroad to remain competitive and protect their interests in global markets.
Curaçao is home to a thriving financial services sector, and a well-educated, highly-skilled and multilingual workforce – Dutch, English, Papiamentu and Spanish are widely spoken on the island. Its strong connections with the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas, high-quality telecommunications infrastructure, and the fact that it lies outside the hurricane belt, make the island an attractive business location.
Moreover, Curaçao’s current trademark law is fully aligned with international trademark registration practices. Applicants may submit their trademark applications in Dutch, English, Papiamentu, or Spanish.
And in the Caribbean, Curaçao is one of just a handful of countries – along with Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba and Dutch Sint Maarten – to implement the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (the Madrid Protocol) following the accession to that Treaty in 2003 of the Netherlands Antilles, of which Curaçao was formerly a part.
Annual statistics produced by WIPO relating to the use of the trademark system around the world, in terms of both applications filed nationally and international filings via the Madrid System, show that on a per capita basis, Curaçao is well positioned by comparison with other Caribbean nations.
While these data are encouraging, there is still a long way to go in improving awareness about the role and importance of intellectual property rights such as trademarks across the island.
Local stories can underscore the strategic importance of trademark rights in advancing the island’s economic development goals. For example, trademark protection is at the heart of the business strategy of thriving companies like Curaçao Laboratories Ltd., founded on September 16, 1948, which exports to international markets.
The company has a sizeable portfolio of both national and international trademark registrations, including “Alcolado Glacial,” which is very well known in Curaçao and many other markets. Alcolado Glacial is a refreshing menthol-scented lotion. It is sold, along with a range of other related products, in over 25 countries, including Canada, Europe and the USA.
With such a rich history of trademark protection behind us, the aim of Curaçao’s Bureau for Intellectual Property is to support businesses at home and abroad to secure and manage their trademark portfolios both nationally and internationally. This will enable them to fully leverage the commercial value of their trademark rights, expand their businesses and support the development of Curacao’s economy. Today, we lift a glass – of Blue Curaçao, of course – to the last 125 years, and look forward supporting the widespread uptake and use of our services to support business growth in the decades to come.
The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.