Two pending trademark applications for architectural designs raise the question of the scope of trademark protection for building designs in Cambodia.

Many jurisdictions around the world recognize trademark rights in both specific elements of a building – such as an iconic statute, door, or spire – as well as potentially in the overall design of the building itself. The key legal question that the trademark office and courts contend with is whether the public, when viewing the building or design elements, associates it with the company applying for the trademark. A balance needs to be struck between protecting consumers from confusion, and not granting exclusive use of common architectural designs and elements.

In Cambodia, based on our trademark searches, the only architectural designs currently registered are for gas stations, held by Total, BP, and Sokimex (a local company). Their registrations cover the gas station awning, and in the case of Total and BP, also the signage on the pumps and main sign showing the gas prices, as show below:

The key to these designs being accepted for registration is their color schemes. As almost every modern gas station shares the same basic layout of pumps and an awning, it is only the design in combination with the colors that allows the consumer to associate the station with a particular source, and makes them protectable.

In terms of the Cambodian Trademark Law, an architectural design application will not be registered “if it is incapable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises” (Article 4(a)).

Just recently, Shell joined the competition and filed a series of trademarks (application numbers KH/80564/18, KH/80565/18, and KH/80566/18) for their own gas station designs, as shown below:

Similar to those of BP, Total and Sokimex, the Shell application shows the architectural layout of the station in combination with at least two colors, and we would expect it likewise to be accepted for registration.

Leaving gas-stations aside, two recent applications (KH/77122/17 and KH/77120/17) by Wynn Resorts will test the scope of trademark protection in architectural designs. Last year they filed for the design of their casino resort, submitting the following specimen:

Whereas the gas stations combined generic architectural elements with two or more colors, the Wynn applications are monochrome. The two applications are still pending, a decision should be expected this year. Check back for an update!