Straddling the border between Central and South America, Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. From the country’s high altitude sprawling capital Bogotá to the Caribbean island San Andres, Colombia offers some of the best natural resources in the world. The country is known for its robust education system, which makes it an appealing place to build out a local employment hub.
As you begin to expand your business to Colombia, you may want to consider how the country protects intellectual property, especially if you are hiring full-time employees or contractors for the first time.
Protecting intellectual property like patents, copyrights, and trade secrets is a crucial part of maintaining your products and services both at home and abroad in Colombia. Understanding intellectual property laws in the country will ensure you protect your company and benefit from the country’s booming tech sector.
Here we’ll give basic information about everything companies should know about intellectual property rights in Colombia and how they can go about protecting these assets.
In Colombia, intellectual property refers to the legal rights that protect the creations of the mind. These creations can include inventions, literary & artistic works, symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.
One of the main purposes in protecting intellectual property is to promote innovation, creativity, and economic growth by granting exclusive rights to creators and innovators, who can then control and profit form their their intellectual property.
The Colombian government has established a robust legal framework for the protection of intellectual property. This framework includes laws and regulations that cover patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, and trade secrets.
The Colombian Patent Office, also known as the Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio (SIC), is the government agency responsible for the administration and enforcement of intellectual property rights in Colombia. The SIC is part of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism; its main mission is to protect and promote innovation and technological development in the country.
The SIC is responsible for granting patents and utility models, registering trademarks & geographical indications, and protecting industrial designs & trade secrets. This department also oversees unfair competition practices and enforces the legal framework for intellectual property rights in Colombia.
When filing a patent or registering a trademark, you must do so in Spanish. Documents in other languages will not be considered compliant.
Intellectual property laws in Colombia are enforced through a variety of legal and administrative mechanisms, including the Colombian Patent Office and the Copyright Directorate of the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for the registration and protection of copyright in Colombia.
The primary enforcement mechanism is through the judicial system, which allows rights holders to bring civil and criminal actions against infringers. In civil cases, the rights holder can seek damages and injunctions to stop the infringing activity, and in criminal cases, the infringer may face fines and imprisonment, in addition to other penalties.
Recently, the Colombian government has established administrative procedures for the enforcement of intellectual property rights. These procedures allow rights holders to file complaints with government agencies, such as the Colombian Patent Office or the National Directorate of Copyright, which can take administrative actions against infringers, such as seizing counterfeit goods.
There are five main types of intellectual property protection in Colombia: patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, and trade secrets
In general, intellectual property in Colombia is governed by these 3 characteristics:
Exclusivity: The owner is the only one able to sell/use what they have produced
Territorially: Rights are granted in the individual territory the property was produced in
Temporarily: This specifies the time frame that the produced item is protected from being used
A patent in Colombia is a legal document that grants the holder exclusive rights to prevent others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period of time, typically 20 years from the date of filing. Patents are typically granted for inventions that are new, involve an inventive step, and are capable of industrial application. Inventions can be in any field of technology, including products, processes, machines, and methods.
A trademark in Colombia is a sign or symbol that distinguishes the goods or services of one company from those of another. A trademark can be a word, phrase, design, logo, or combination of these elements, and it serves as a unique identifier of the source of a product or service.
Copyright protection in Colombia is granted to original works of authorship, including literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works. Copyright protects the expression of ideas, but not the ideas themselves.
An industrial design in Colombia refers to the aesthetic aspects of a product, such as its shape, pattern, color, texture, or material composition. An industrial design can be protected by law if it is new, has an individual character, and is capable of being industrialized.
In Colombia, a trade secret is confidential information that is used in a commercial context and that provides a competitive advantage to its owner. Trade secrets can include formulas, processes, customer lists, business strategies, and other confidential information that is not generally known to the public.
Unlike patents, trademarks, and industrial designs, trade secrets are not registered with any government agency in Colombia. Instead, they are protected under the Industrial Property Law and other relevant laws that prohibit the unauthorized acquisition, use, or disclosure of trade secret information.
Under Colombian law, confidentiality agreements are generally enforceable as long as they meet certain requirements. For example, the information that is subject to the confidentiality obligation must be confidential, meaning that it is not generally known or easily accessible to others. The agreement must also specify the scope and duration of the confidentiality obligation, and the employer must take reasonable measures to keep the information confidential.
Non-compete clauses are contractual provisions that restrict an employee's ability to work for a competitor or start a competing business for a certain period of time after leaving their current employer.
However, non-compete clauses in Colombia must comply with certain legal requirements. For example, the clause must be proportionate to the legitimate interests of the employer and must not be excessively restrictive. The clause must also specify the scope, duration, and geographic area of the restriction, and the employer must compensate the employee for the period during which they are prohibited from working.
There are certain properties and concepts that are excluded from intellectual property protection in Colombia. Some examples are:
Ideas: Intellectual property laws do not protect ideas in and of themselves. Instead, they protect the expression of those ideas. For example, One Hundred Years of Solitude produced by Colombian author García Márquez would be copyrighted to that specific story, with those specific characters. However, a book about finding a utopian city in a Colombian city wouldn’t be protected, as many authors throughout history have used that same ideas in their stories.
Facts: Intellectual property laws do not protect facts, as facts are considered to be part of the public domain.
Methods of doing business: Intellectual property laws generally do not protect methods of doing business, such as business models or strategies.
Scientific principles: Intellectual property laws do not protect scientific principles, as they are considered to be part of the public domain.
Natural phenomena: Intellectual property laws do not protect natural phenomena, such as the laws of nature or natural occurring substances.
Colombia has several intellectual property laws and regulations that protect various types of intellectual property for both in-country and foreign companies, including:
Patents: Patents are regulated by the Patent Law. In Colombia, this law provides for the protection of inventions, utility models, and industrial designs.
Trademarks: Trademarks in Colombia are regulated by the Trademark Law, which covers laws for registration and protection of trademarks, service marks, trade names, and slogans.
Copyright: Copyright in Colombia is regulated by the Copyright Law. The law provides for the protection of literary, artistic, and scientific works, including software.
Industrial designs: Industrial designs in Colombia are protected by the Industrial Property Law. The law provides for the protection of the appearance of industrial or artisanal products.
Trade secrets: Trade secrets in Colombia are protected under the Industrial Property Law and prohibits the unauthorized acquisition, use, or disclosure of trade secret information.
In addition to these laws, Colombia is also a party to several international treaties and agreements that protect intellectual property, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
When you’re hiring in Colombia but your business is based in another country, there are a few different approaches you can take to ensure you protect your business’s intellectual property: use an independent contractor, set up your own entity, hire a third-party staffing agency, or partner with an EOR service like Via.
You may decide to either work with an independent contractor or outsource to a third-party staffing agency, but both options can cause internal problems protecting intellectual property at your company.
When you give an independent contractor access to your intellectual property in Colombia, they can claim property over anything that they created while working for you. That’s why having strong independent contractor agreements and compliant hiring practices in place is absolutely essential before hiring in Colombia.
If you want to set up your own entity in Colombia to hire and staff your own employees, you can do this as another option to protect intellectual assets.
If you know expanding to Colombia and Latin America and plan to sell goods or offer services in the region, then this is a good option. However, setting up an entity can be filled with bureaucratic hurdles and unforeseen expenses.
Another option is to partner with a third-party staffing agency to outsource your hiring in Colombia. With this option, you can risk your intellectual property being exposed to those outside of your company, as the staffing agency acts as the employer for your employees.
Be sure to read the employment contracts carefully to ensure they are compliant and protect your business's intellectual property rights.
The best approach to hiring abroad quickly while protecting intellectual property is to work with a Colombian employer-of-record.
EOR’s allow you to hire employees in Colombia and help you manage your assets without the stress of your important company secrets falling into the wrong hands. Via helps you draft an employment contract that outlines 1) exactly how your intellectual assets will be used by the employees you hire and 2) who will have the rights to them.
All businesses expanding to Colombia should write a solid intellectual property agreement to protect themselves, as well as their employees, products, and services.
Some important benefits of intellectual property agreements include:
Protection of intellectual property: An intellectual property agreement provides legal protection for intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights. This helps to prevent unauthorized use or infringement of these rights and allows for legal action to be taken if necessary.
Promotion of innovation and creativity: Intellectual property agreements help to promote innovation and creativity by providing a legal framework that encourages investment in research and development. This can lead to the creation of new products, services, and technologies.
Economic: Intellectual property agreements can have economic benefits, particularly for companies that rely on intellectual property for their business. If you don’t register a new product or service, you could risk one of your competitors rolling it out before you do. These agreements can help to create a more stable business environment, encourage investment, and promote economic growth.
Protection of consumers: Intellectual property agreements also help to protect consumers by ensuring that they are not deceived by counterfeit or infringing products. By requiring that products and services meet certain standards and are properly labeled, consumers can be confident that they are getting what they paid for.
In May of 2012, the United States and Colombia signed an intellectual property agreement called the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA). This agreement contains provisions that enhance the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in both countries.
Under the TPA, Colombia has committed to providing strong and effective protection and enforcement of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, in accordance with international standards. The agreement also includes provisions that strengthen enforcement measures against piracy and counterfeiting, such as the seizure and destruction of infringing goods and the imposition of fines and other penalties.
The TPA also includes provisions that promote cooperation and information sharing between the United States and Colombia on intellectual property issues, such as training and technical assistance for intellectual property officials, and public awareness campaigns to promote respect for intellectual property rights.
Companies can build a hub in (country) of 1 to 100+ workers using a global EOR provider like Via. We manage local HR processes for direct employment like work visas, permits, benefits, payroll, background checks, and much more. Our team of local labor lawyers and experts ensure that your company always remains compliant while expanding abroad. We handle the responsibility side of things so you can focus on what matters: recruiting and managing your team. Our transparent prices allow you to pay full-time employees and contractors with no hidden set-up fees, no foreign exchange or transaction fees, and no minimums.