By Patrick B. Monahan
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In February of 2018 the Venezuelan government launched the “petro,” a state-backed cryptocurrency that was purportedly created to supplement Venezuela’s fiat currency, the bolívar. The government has claimed that the petro is backed by Venezuela’s reserves of oil, gasoline, gold and diamonds. At this writing there remain a number of questions about the petro’s value, its backing, and even about its availability.

On February 1, 2019, the Venezuelan Ministry of National Commerce issued a notice requiring that patent and trademark fees be paid in petro. On that same day, Servicio Autónomo de la Propiedad Intelectual (SAPI), Venezuela’s patent and trademark governing body, lifted its suspension of payment of fees, which dated back to February of 2018, and established a 60-day term in which rights holders must pay any outstanding fees required for the maintenance of their registrations. This fee schedule is retroactive, meaning that any fees that would have come due during the suspension of payments are now due during the 60-day term, which, according to the schedule, can be extended at SAPI’s sole discretion.

Further complicating this matter for United States individuals and companies with intellectual property interests in Venezuela is Executive Order 13827, issued on and effective as of March 19, 2018, which, absent an exemption from U.S. authorities, expressly prohibits transactions by U.S. persons (individuals or companies) relating to any digital currency, digital coin, or digital token issued by, for, or on behalf of the Venezuelan government on or after January 8, 2018. This Executive Order appears to address a concern of the United States government that the Venezuelan government’s creation of the petro is an attempt to skirt ongoing U.S. sanctions affecting Venezuela’s access to international financing.

We strongly recommend that intellectual property rights owners in the United States with interests in Venezuela exercise caution in this time of uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the situation and will provide an update in the event of the issuance of an exemption from U.S. authorities, an extension of the 60-day payment term by SAPI, or a change in the payment policy from the Venezuelan Ministry of National Commerce.