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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 14:27 GMT
Thailand in tuk-tuk tussle
A Thai tuk-tuk
The tuk-tuk is basically a souped-up motorbike
Like Italy's mopeds or America's pick-up trucks, Thailand's tuk-tuks have become a national symbol.

These tinny, three-wheeled taxis, essentially little more than remodelled motorbikes, provide the most convenient means of transport in urban Thailand - and in cities throughout Asia.

Now, as governments around the world fret about traffic and pollution, they are starting to catch on in the West, too.

But the Thai government, eager not to miss out on the boom, is fighting to gain global control of the tuk-tuk name.

The Commerce Ministry is planning to launch legal action against firms in a number of Western countries that it accuses of illegitimately co-opting the tuk-tuk brand.

What's in a name?

The ministry's main target is a British Virgin Islands-registered firm, Tuk-Tuk International, which plans to import and trade the vehicles.

The firm has already been approached by the Thai government, and reportedly refused to change its name.

The government now says it will launch a formal legal protest, but has not yet revealed what channels it will use.

The ministry said it did not want to clamp down on trade, but merely to ensure that the tuk-tuk name is used only on the authentic Thai product.

A previous dispute, with British firm MMW Imports, has been resolved, as the Thai government conceded that it could be a legitimate importer and distributor of the vehicles in Europe.

Brand battle

But lawyers argue that the Thai government will have little chance of imposing an effective global copyright on the tuk-tuk name.

Unlike other universal names - Vespa, Hoover, Jeep and so on - tuk-tuk is not a brand name, but a generic term for vehicles produced in garages all over Asia.

A few Thai firms are planning to step up high-quality tuk-tuk production, but it might be too late to reclaim a popular slang word as a corporate copyright.

And tuk-tuk dealers complain that the Thai government's aggressive attitude is relatively recent, calling into question why officials turned a blind eye for years to what they now claim is a point of principle.

See also:

21 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bangkok to combat traffic congestion
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