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News & Knowledge

Renewing or registering a trademark in Venezuela is now sanctionable in the US

4th April 2019

MSI member firms represent clients with interests around the world. Some may currently have or may be interested in obtaining intellectual property rights in Venezuela. By a twist of political international gamesmanship, registering a trademark or patent in Venezuela could violate US law and expose your client to sanctions. Jorge Espinosa attorney at MSI's law firm member Espinosa Martinez PL provides an update.

On March 19, 2018, the Trump administration issued executive order 13827 called “Executive Order on Taking Additional Steps to Address the Situation in Venezuela.”  This executive order prohibits all transactions using digital currencies issued by or for the Government of Venezuela.

In February 2018 the Venezuelan Government issued its own cryptocurrency called the Petro.  On February 1, 2019, an official announcement issued by the Venezuelan Trademark Office (the “Servicio Autonomo de Propiedad Industrial” or “SAPI”) declared that transactions with SAPI, including registrations and renewals, must be made in Petros.

Treasury regulations related to many restricted countries such as Cuba or Iran have general license exceptions for expenditure of funds to protect intellectual property.  However, there is no such general license which would carve out such expenditures Accordingly it would violate executive order 13827 to take any action related to a trademark or patent with SAPI.  You may think that you can have your local counsel pay the fee as a way of avoiding a violation, but it would likely be held to constitute a conspiracy to violate the intent of the order.

Our firm has contacted the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Controls (“OFAC”) and they were unfamiliar with the situation as of the writing of this note.  They suggested obtaining an OFAC special license for payment of SAPI fees.  This creates quite a burden since it takes approximately two (2) months to obtain a special license.  Although OFAC is likely to provide a solution in the near future, for now it is important that your clients plan ahead to protect their intellectual property in Venezuela.