Intellectual property protection is an important part of expanding your business' operations overseas—after all, your company's intellectual property (IP) is its competitive edge.
But IP law is complex—especially when you start dealing with international laws across borders. If you're considering hiring in Colombia (or expanding operations there) knowing how to protect your company's IP rights and ownership is crucial. Failing to do so could result in legal disputes, loss of market share, reputational damage, and more.
If you're looking for a primer on IP law in Colombia, read on. While protecting IP rights is complex and often requires professional guidance, the tips below will help get you started.
Note: our guide is for informational purposes, and isn’t intended to provide legal advice.
1. NDAs are enforceable in Colombia
In Colombia, NDAs are generally considered valid and enforceable. Colombian law recognizes the freedom of contract, which allows parties involved in an NDA to create agreements as they see fit—as long as they comply with contract laws.
2. There are different types of IP in Colombia (enforced by different agencies)
In Colombia, IP falls under two main categories:
- Industrial property, which includes trademarks, slogans, geographical indications, patents, utility models, and industrial designs
- Copyrights and related rights, which include things like artistic works and moral rights
How you protect IP in Colombia varies depending on the type.
According to Colombian trademark law, a trademark can only be protected through registration. Trademark protection is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely every subsequent 10 years. There are two ways to register for trademark protection:
- Online or directly with the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC)
- Through an international trademark application, with Colombia marked as your designated country
Patent protection lasts 20 years in Colombia. Patent applications can be submitted in two ways:
- Online or directly with the Patent and Trademark office at SIC
- Through an international patent application with Colombia as the signatory of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
Design protection lasts 10 years in Colombia. To register a design, you can apply online or directly with SIC.
No formal registration is required for copyright protection in Colombia. However, you can register works with the National Copyright Directorate (DNDA), which can help with enforcement of your IP rights in case of copyright infringement.
3. Colombia belongs to many international treaties for enforcing IP rights
For global businesses, enforcing IP rights across international borders can be a thorny issue. Colombia is proactive about this and has joined a number of international treaties for enforcing IP rights:
- Paris Convention on Industrial Property
- World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS)
- Andean Community Decision 486 of 2000 (CAN in Spanish)
- Madrid Agreement and the Madrid Protocol
- Geneva Convention for the Protection of Sound Recordings
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
- Brussels Convention on the Distribution of Satellite Signals
- Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure
- World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO Copyright Treaty
- WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty
It's worth noting, though, that Colombia (like much of Latin America) has problems with counterfeiting, digital piracy, and other ISP issues that cause some governments (like the United States) to issue warnings. Colombia remains on a watch list for US trading partners with unresolved IP issues.
4. Contractors own the copyright to their work unless you override this in a written agreement
Similar to the US, in Colombia, independent contractors own the copyright to any works they create by default. For companies to ensure ownership over the work created by freelancers they hire, they must have a written agreement that assigns ownership of IP to the business.
5. Colombian law isn't clear about who owns IP created within an employment relationship
In an employee-employer relationship, there's nothing in Colombian law that clearly defines who owns IP created by the employee.
That's why it's necessary to define this in writing at the start of the employment relationship, either in a clause in the employment contract or in a separate assignment agreement to cover IP created by the employee during their tenure.
It should clearly define IP that is assigned to the company—for example, any IP they create during work time and using work resources.
6. You should include a waiver of moral rights when protecting a work in Colombia
In Colombia, economic rights (ownership) and moral rights (an author's right to maintain the integrity of a work they created) are seen as separate from one another. Even if you create an assignment agreement that transfers economic rights to a work created by an employee, it should include a waiver of the employee's moral rights, too.
Frequently asked questions about IP law in Colombia
What are economic rights?
Economic rights to a work are similar to ownership of a work in Colombia. They can be assigned and reassigned, transferring rights to different people or entities.
What are moral rights?
Moral rights belong to the original creator of the work and allow them to maintain its integrity over time. They cannot be assigned the same way economic rights can.
Who owns IP in Colombia: employee or employer?
Colombian law isn't clear about this, so you should clarify IP ownership in a written agreement with your employees.
Who owns IP in Colombia: contractor or employer?
In Colombia, by default, a contractor owns the rights to any IP they create, even if they created it during the course of an assignment they were hired to complete. It’s still best practice, however, to clarify IP ownership rights in the contractor agreement.
What is an IP assignment agreement?
An IP assignment agreement, also known as an intellectual property assignment agreement or patent assignment agreement, is a legal contract that transfers the ownership rights of intellectual property from one party (or assignor) to another. It is commonly used when a company or individual wants to acquire or transfer intellectual property rights, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, or trade secrets.
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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.