The Sunday TimesBusiness

25th, May 1997




Intellectual Property Law to conform to international law

The Registry of Patents of Trade Marks is to be renamed as the National Intellectual Property Office of Sri Lanka, as part of a phased effort to modernize the underlying law and the administration of intellectual property in Sri Lanka.

The Registry will then be known as the National Intellectual Property Office of Sri Lanka, the Registrar of Trade Marks and Patents, Dr. D. M. Karunaratne said.

“We are a party to the TRIPS agreement on intellectual property reached at the Uruguay Round of talks,” Dr. Karunaratne said.

“We have time till the year 2000 to change our law to conform to this agreement.”

The deadline for developed countries has already passed. The law presently in operation, a codification of all previous laws is the Code of Intellectual Property Act No. 52 of 1979, as amended by Act No. 03 of 1980, Act No. 02 of 1983 and Act No. 17 of 1990.

The Cabinet has approved some changes to the present Act in the area of administration of intellectual property, he said.

The administration system is to be overhauled and upgraded to cope with the increasing demands made on the registry with the opening up of the economy.

In 1996, the Registry had entertained 4,200 trade and service marks and it is estimated that more than 5000 marks will be registered this year.

Since the first trade mark was registered in Sri Lanka in the late nineteenth century only 20,000 trade marks had been registered till 1979.

But from 1979 to 1996 around 60,000 trade and service marks had been registered, indicating a sharp rise. But unlike other counties Sri Lanka had been unable to recruit specialist grades of staff to the registry.

The resultant delays are a burden to the economy, Dr. Karunaratne said.

In addition researchers have little access to the facilities at the Registry for lack of staf to disseminate infoarmation, he added.

Lending rates takes a dip

By Asantha Sirimanne

Though some of the larger domestic commercial banks have been fighting shy of cutting interest rates substantially following the two statutory reserve ratio cuts by the Central Bank, competition from foreign and smaller banks would force lending rates to fall by 150 to 300 basis points over the next six months, an equities research house has said.

“While some of the larger ones appear to be reluctant to reduce lending rates, we believe that they will be forced to fall in line or be left out of the race,” Jardine Fleming Research said.

The 3 per cent reserve cut to 12 per cent is estimated to have released Rs 9 bn into the banking system.

Falling yields of government securities have caused banks to lose revenue from the statutory 20 per cent of assets invested in liquid assets.

“Given their cost structure, the local commercial banks have not been able to reduce lending across the board, except Sampath Bank which has cut lending rates by 200 basis points bringing the prime lending rates to 17.5 per cent,” Jardine Fleming’s banking analyst Savanthi Arthenayake says.

“The other three listed banks have reduced rates on a case by case basis on the request of corporate clients.”

Foreign banks on the other hand had a low cost structure with few branches and a practice of mobilizing bulk deposits off the call market.

“Thus low call market-rates have allowed them to reduce their lending rates by 200-300 basis points, forcing the local banks to compete.

But banks have also reduced deposit rates by 100 to 150 basis points, enabling them to preserve margins. The benchmark National Savings Bank rate has also been lowered to 12 per cent.

With private sector loan demand being depressed last year, loans have declined compared to deposits to historic lows.

The loan-to-deposit ratio has fallen to a historic low of 77.3 per cent and the gap between loans and deposits had swelled to Rs 59.5 bn by end 1996.

Even if loan demand picks up, lending rates are not expected to pick up.

“Most of the private banks are flushed with liquidity, having aggressively mobilized deposits in 1996,” says Jardine Fleming Economist Azra Jafferjee.

Jardine Fleming forecasts prime lending rates to average 16.7 per cent in 1997 and dip further to 15.4 per cent next year.

The benchmark one year T-Bill yields are also expected to average 15.2 per cent in 1997 and 14.2 in 1998. Though yields are less than 13 per cent now - 300 basis points lower than the figure in the same period last year - yields are expected to climb during the second half in accordance with the cyclical pattern of government borrowing.

The key to stability is government deficit spending and the extent of reliance on debt markets to bridge it.

“Over the years the government has increasingly turned to domestic market to fund the deficit (54 per cent of total borrowings),” Ms. Jafferjee points out.

Price revisions in a number of subsidised items, and revenue from privatization however would help keep government expenditure in check even if defence spending rises to 1996 levels. If Sri Lanka Telecom could be sold it could reduce the budget deficit by 2 per cent of GDP.

The introduction of long term government bonds will also help dampen volatility, in addition to lowering the interest bill.

Jardine Fleming forecasts inflation to be 13.4 per cent in 1997 and 10.1 per cent next year.

Though relaxed policies could spur money supply the link between money supply and inflation was weak in Sri Lanka, Jardine Fleming said.

Money supply growth so far this year has been low, with reduction in net foreign assets. But there could be a turnaround this year with increased foreign private borrowing and better investment flows.

Rapid fluctuations surge

Market focus By Analyst

Marginal declines were recorded for the review period due to consolidation by investors. The ASPI indices traded in a narrow range of 730 odd levels. High expectations for rapid increases in price levels subsidised with the expectation that the market would consolidate at these levels.

Privatization of a 51% stake in three plantation sector companies Maturata, Namunukula and Malwatta is scheduled for early June.

On the strategic divestments of Queen Elizabeth Quay at the Colombo Port, a letter of comfort has been issued to the consortium of investors. This deal would be similar to the arrangement the previous administration entered into regarding Puttalam Cement.

The development of the Galle Port is also on the cards with the MOU being entered into with a consortium of investors, with feasibility studies already being carried out.

Corporate results for the first quarter 1997 are trickling in, and significant performances of certain companies are apparent.

Commercial Bank reports an increase in turnover of 21% and 17% increase in earnings. The figures stood at Rs 845m and Rs. 98 m respectively.

HNB first quarter results revealed an increase of 34% in turnover and a 5.8% increase in earnings to record Rs. 1418m and Rs. 108m respectively compared to the first quarter of 1996.

Vanik’s offer to purchase Forbes Ceylon Ltd. has again come into focus, which in most probably would end up with the same result as before, with ACAP also contesting, may be with more resources at its disposal.

Recommended stocks:

Blue chip counters: DFCC, NDB, Commercial Bank, HNB, as well as the chemical counters look promising.


By Business Bug
Bank under check

Activities of a big bank which is a subsidiary of an even bigger bank are being subject to scrutiny these days.

An inquiry has been promised but some bank employees are not quite confident that it will see the light of day.

Therefore, they are now considering trade union action, with the support of the big banking sector union, if an impartial inquiry is not held, we hear...

Hit for a six

Some sponsors of live TV coverage of the current cricket tournament in India, had to take part of the flak from cricket fans, disappointed over the decision not to provide live coverage on Vesak Day.

But the TV station may have got more than it bargained for, in the process.

That is because some of the sponsors say they will sponsor coverage of future tournaments, only if another network is given exclusive rights....

Cell collusion?

Cellular networks are busy these days, negotiating a deal with the state-run telecommunications giant to provide customers with free incoming calls.

But if customers expect a better deal they may be in for a rude shock.

Though incoming calls will be free, out going call charges are likely to be increased, sources say. So, though there is intense competition among the four networks this time they figure they will stick together....

Boeing set to acquire McDonald Douglas

By M. Ismeth reporting from Seattle

Boeing is to acquire McDonald Douglas for a staggering US dollars 13 billion, Mark G. Hooper, Boeing’s Senior Manager Middle East/South Asia International Communications, said here in Seattle.

Addressing an international press conference on May 14 at the Boeing headquarters in Seattle, Washington State Mark Hooper said it would be an outright purchase of McDonald Douglas and hopefully the deal would be concluded by the end of June/July this year.

Journalists from 16 countries including Sri Lanka were on the maiden flight of the new Emirates Boeing 777 from Seattle to Dubai.

Boeing has in its employ 150,000 employees throughout its branches in the US and in Seattle alone it has 95,000 employees.

The salient feature in the purchase of McDonald Douglas is the five million pages documentation processed and pressented by Boeing as against McDonald’s 2.5 million pages.

These documents are presented to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a government authority which processes and scrutinizes the buying and selling of large scale industries.

Asked how many lawyers were engaged in preparing the documents Hooper said Boeing had engaged about 250 lawyers while 300 were engaged by McDonalds.

Replying another question he said it took four months for Boeing to put together its documents.

The entire 45,000 employees of McDonald would be absorbed by Boeing, he added.

He also said that while Boeing assembled 70 persent commercial planes and 30 percent for defence purposes McDonalds did vice versa. This was one of Boeing successes and McDonald’s decline.

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