Jurisdiction - Hong Kong
Reports and Analysis
Macau – Still a Well-Kept Secret.

29 April, 2012


Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific


Macau became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 20 December 1999. Macau is the only place in the PRC where casino gambling is legal and, since the liberalisation of the casino market in 2002, the tiny "SAR" has become one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world.
Last year, the little enclave with a population of just over half a million, received 28 million visitors, with 30 million expected in 2012. According to recent reports, the GDP of Macau in 2011 was around US$33.5 billion, generated primarily from the gambling sector. The territory was originally dubbed "the Las Vegas of Asia" but ,in fact, takings in Macau swiftly surpassed those of Las Vegas.
With gaming as a spring board, investors are now building "integrated resorts" that offer a wide variety of leisure and entertainment attractions combining casino facilities with hotel accommodation, dining, shops, shows and concerts, convention facilities and theme parks.
Macanese shoppers used to travel to Hong Kong to buy branded goods but now overseas visitors pour into Macau to shop. All the major international luxury brands already have a presence in Macau, taking advantage of its status as a duty free port. Some brands have set up several retail outlets to tap into the massive cash inflow from the ever-increasing number of tourists, especially from the PRC. There are now major shopping malls at Wynn Macau, The Venetian, The City of Dreams (which includes Crown Towers, The Hard Rock and The Grand Hyatt Macau) and the MGM Grand. Further resorts are in the pipeline including projects by Wynn, MGM and Galaxy.
In addition to casino and hotel development, the Government plans to diversify of Macau's economy into non-gaming sectors including investment in large infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a light rail, expansion of the airport and luxury real estate developments.
However, although many are aware of the business opportunities in Macau, it seems that they are still neglecting to take the appropriate steps to protect their intellectual property rights in the territory. It is a common misconception that intellectual property rights attained in Hong Kong or the PRC will extend to Macau. As with Hong Kong, Macau, as a "special administrative region" of the PRC, operates under the principle of "one country, two systems". Macau has a high degree of autonomy and will retain its own legal system until 2049. For intellectual property purposes, Macau remains a separate jurisdiction from Hong Kong and the rest of China. Macau has its own system for registration of trade marks, designs and patents and a separate copyright regime.
Registering trade marks in Macau is relatively quick, around six months if no objections are raised. It is also inexpensive especially since the official fees were greatly reduced (by 80%) at the end of 2005. 1,119 trade mark applications were filed in the territory in 1999. By 2011, the number of filings was 8,500.
Unlike Hong Kong, Macau is a civil law jurisdiction, due to its Portuguese colonial heritage. The rapid expansion of the gaming and tourism industry makes it essential for intellectual property owners to take action protect their rights against infringers in Macau. This is especially as Macau, like the PRC, operates a "first-to-file" system. Trade mark applications should be filed as soon as possible to pre-empt trade mark pirates. Also, the geographical and trading proximity of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the Mainland makes it all the more important to have a comprehensive and consistent intellectual property strategy for Greater China.


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