Withholding tax 101

My Civil Procedure lecturer would always say this: There are 2 things that are certain in this world– death and tax, even when you die, you still need to pay tax. Now, most of us would know that there are certain types of taxes we need to pay to the country i.e. Income tax, Goods and Services Tax (GST), Capital Gains Tax (CGT) but the lesser few know about Withholding tax (WHT). Withholding tax isn’t one of those tax you might incur on a daily basis but it’s good to know about it to determine whether it applies to you (or risk IRB penalties)

  1. What is withholding tax

Withholding tax is an amount withheld by the party making payment (payer) on income earned by a non-resident (payee) and paid to the IRB. For example, A engages B who is a foreign consultant to give consultation on a project and pays $100,000. Under the S109B Income Tax Act 1967, A would need to withhold 10% of that amount as withholding tax, paying B only $90,000. (unless otherwise agreed)

Failure to withhold by the payer would have to pay an increase in tax of a sum equal to ten percent of the amount and no deduction is given for the payment made to a non-resident payee against business income in the income tax computation of the payer

WHT only applies to services/ income and not goods. Goods would incur import duty or GST instead. Under the Income Tax Act, the various types of services that would incur withholding tax and their respective rates are (accurate at the time of writing)

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 21.36.20.png

Full list can be found here

2. How do I determine if I need to pay withholding tax

I’ll explain this via examples of some types of payments taxable.

i) Contract Payments

Under the Income Tax Act, it reads 107A.

(1) Where any person (in this section referred to as “the payer”) is liable to make contract payment to a non-resident contractor in respect of services under a contract, he shall upon paying or crediting such contract payment deduct therefrom tax at the rate of—

(a) 10% of the contract payment on account of tax which is or may be payable by that non-resident contractor for any year of assessment; and

(b) 3% of the contract payment on account of tax which is or may be payable by employees of that non-resident contractor for any year of assessment,

This provision was included to allow the collection at the source of tax due by non-resident contractors and professional firms engaged in services under a contract. This tax is not a final tax and will be refunded to the contractor upon finalization by the tax authorities.Payments made by Malaysian residents to non-resident contractors for services under a contract carried out and performed in Malaysia are subject to withholding tax of 13% (10% + 3%) on the service portion of the contract.

This would be akin to the example I gave above where A engages B, a foreign consultant for consultation services.

ii) Royalties and interest

Both come from the same statutory provision which is s109A of the Act.

However, the Finance Act 2017 has expanded the definition of Royalties. General understanding of the word “royalty” would encompass from common copyrights and trademarks i.e. payment to McDonald HQ for carrying out business in Malaysia using the brand “McDonald”.

Now, the definition includes any consideration for the right to use software, the reception of or the right to receive visual images or sounds transmitted to the public by satellite, cable, fibre optic or similar technology or in connection with television or radio broadcasting. Further, royalties paid for the use of or the right to use radio frequency spectrums. This is a much more comprehensive list and to my mind, would include everything and anything related to the use of others’ assets.

iii) Technical services

Amount paid in consideration of technical advice, assistance or services rendered in connection with technical management or administration of any scientific, industrial or commercial undertaking, venture, project or scheme is subjected to WHT. However, day to day administrative work, such as bookkeeping and other routine services (no specialized knowledge, skills or expertise are needed) does not fall under the category “administration”; those amounts are not subject to WHT.

The definition of what amounts to “technical services” has also been enlarged and increased by the Finance Act 2017. Previously, the WHT provisions for service fees, WHT would only be applicable to service fees falling within Sections 4A(i) and (ii) where the services are rendered in Malaysia. From the enactment of the Act onwards, all payments made by a Malaysian resident taxpayer to a non-resident taxpayer for technical services are subject to 10 % WHT regardless where the services are physically performed.

For example, A UK based consulting firm provides consulting services to a Malaysian taxpayer, the services have been wholly performed in Singapore. Previously, the service fee paid to the legal firm was not subject to WHT. Under the new rules, the Malaysian service recipient has to withhold 10 % WHT on the whole amount.

3) Additional:

Now, you might be thinking why I said “unless otherwise agreed” in para 1 (and if you did, Good Job!!) and no, you cannot contract out of the Income Tax Act. This is because sometimes, especially with online advertising platforms, they ask that whatever price they name is the price you’ll pay them, and you’ll have to top up that amount as withholding tax.

As stated in Google’s Advertising Program Terms:

7. Payment. Customer will pay all charges incurred in connection with the Program… Charges are exclusive of taxes… Customer will pay (i) all taxes and other government charges ….

The formula works like this: if the advertising cost was $100,000, you would need to divide it by 0.9 and then multiply it by 0.1 and the withholding tax payable to the IRB would be $11,111. Hence, you are not entitled to say that from the $100,000, you would withhold 10% making it $10,000 but you would need to spend additional resources for the payment, making an additional burden because you’ve agreed to take on the supplemental cost.

If you’re interested more about taxing on online advertisement, you can read more here and here which talks more about Facebook and Google adverts where it is unclear whether the WHT is under royalties or technical services.

 

Teaser: next week I’ll be writing on the largest fine the EU Competition Commission has ever imposed on a single entity so stay tune!

Resources:

  1. HLB Malaysia, Malaysia Understanding Withholding Taxes
  2. Techmonitor, Understanding Withholding Tax
  3. Azmi & Associates, Withholding tax in Malaysia
  4. Deloitte, International Tax Malaysia Highlights 2017
  5. Malaysia Luther News, Malaysia Enacts Finance Act 2017 – Expanded Scope of Withholding Tax
  6. KPMG: Malaysia: Withholding tax, royalty and service fee payments to non-residents

How to land a job as a paralegal in Malaysia – and ace it

The author discusses the tricky business of applying for paralegal work in Malaysia and the lessons she learned from applying for a role that was not advertised.

job-interview-concept-vector
Vector Art by vecteezy.com

One of the most frequent questions I have gotten recently is,

“Actually, what do you do?”

I have been working as a paralegal for the past eight months. Some in the industry may be familiar with the fact that the firm employing me does not normally take in paralegals. So, when someone asked me, “so, did you get here through a relative or a friend?” I was not surprised (my answer was ‘no’).

So how did I do it? Here are a list of things I did and the lessons I learned.

vector-job-seeker-illustration
Vector Art by vecteezy.com

1) Apply, apply, apply

Like most foreign law degree holders, I was not a ‘qualified person’ under section 5 of the Legal Profession Act. This meant that I was not entitled to petition the court for  admission as an advocate and solicitor. While working towards becoming a ‘qualified person’, I needed financial support and craved legal experience. So, I applied for entry-level positions at law firms.

At the job application stage, I sent my CV and personalised cover letters in response to job vacancies displayed on the websites of law firms and platforms such as OfficeParrots, JobStreet and JobsBAC. I also combed through the list of job vacancies publicized by the Malaysian Bar. Not wanting to limit myself, I even emailed law firms that did not showcase any job vacancies suitable for my level of experience and qualification – that was how I got my current job!

My advice: Don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box when applying for jobs. This applies to every stage of the job application process. Be bold and dare to deviate from commonly used phrases and ‘safe’ CV templates. After all, it has been reported that recruiters spend mere seconds reviewing a single application. When I took the initiative of emailing firms that were not actively recruiting, it probably bought me a few more seconds for some screenings.

Be patient and stay enthusiastic about every application. Companies and firms are not obliged to respond to you immediately and many of them may take days, even weeks to reply to you (if they respond at all!). There is no “Last Seen” notification for email, so you will not know if and when your email has been read. However, it is important to remain dedicated in your job search and professional in your correspondence, even if it means restraining yourself from dropping an email to check in on your application when you know you shouldn’t.

2) Actively collaborate with your (potential) employer

Now for the exciting bit – I was invited to an interview for a role that was not advertised. Since the firm did not normally hire paralegals, I could not point any reviews of the position to outline my expectations.

However, I did not walk into the interview completely blind. There were three key points of reference which gave me confidence in my interview ability:

  1. I knew about the firm’s ethos, history and values from my own research;
  2. I also understood my short-term and long-term goals; and
  3. I was familiar with my strengths and weaknesses.

I only learned about the scope of the job during the interview. On the spot, I used the above key points to assess whether the job was a right fit for me and whether I was a right fit for the company. That’s right – it wasn’t just about taking whatever I could get. Although in recent times, employers have lamented that fresh graduates should lower their standards, I strongly believe that individuals should set minimum standards and ensure that their personal interests are protected. It is healthy to set reasonable baseline expectations relating to travel distance, minimum salary, benefits (if any), among other things.

My advice: Be prepared to defend your baseline expectations and ask the relevant questions. Provided that your standards are reasonable, the interviewer may even be impressed with how self-assured you appear. For example, if you told yourself that you would turn down the offer if the pay is below X amount (for good reason), stick to that promise. Be aware of the power that the interviewer wields over the conversation, but do not be pressured into agreeing to terms that are incompatible with your baseline expectations. If you are offered a job on the spot, you are entitled to ask for some time to think about it.

Be honest with what you can offer the firm. Since I planned to work full-time while preparing for the CLP part-time, I made my priorities very clear in all the interviews I attended.

the-perfect-idea-concept-vector
Vector Art by vecteezy.com

3) Be inventive and resourceful

My official job title is ‘Paralegal’. ‘Legal Executive’ is also another commonly-used title for similar work in other firms. Like interns, paralegal work is often fluid and open-ended. Here is a useful and concise summary of the differences between interns, paralegals and secretaries / clerks. However, because my role is relatively new, my job scope is arguably even more fluid and open-ended than usual. I have been emboldened to do things without being asked, such as drafting outlines of litigation strategy. Of course, this had not been possible without fantastic superiors.

My advice: Try out new things! Being inventive is not the sole domain of those with newly-added roles like mine. Don’t banish yourself to the photocopier or coffee machine. Don’t fall into the trap that thinking that law does not allow you to be creative. Constantly think of ways to improve not only your own efficiency, but also your firm’s efficiency.

If you have extra time on your hands, ask for greater responsibility. This can be as simple as offering help, or as challenging as identifying niches to be filled. An example of the latter: if your firm does not circulate legal updates / related news internally, maybe you could volunteer to take up that mantle. Conversely, if you feel like you are doing too much, you might want to set boundaries for yourself (e.g. No Work Rule on weekends) and negotiating with your boss to reduce your workload.

A non-exhaustive list

There are many other tips that you can glean from a quick Google search, like asking someone else to proofread your CV and being on time for an interview. A lot has already been written on the subject, but I wanted to put a personal spin on it. I hope that you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Life at LSE

London has always been one of my dream cities to live in. I’ve previously had the privilege to live in one of the most interesting city in the world (Dubai) but still, nothing compared to the excitement when I knew I was going to London to the school of my dreams– LSE. LSE was also my dream university since IGCSE hence it is exhilarating to be educated in one of the top political science institutions in the world

LSE is amazing. No question about that. In the 3 years of law school, I was there, there was so much to learn and so much LSE could give. It was pretty much like a pot of gold on the end of the rainbow which wouldn’t stop giving. However, there were nights that I would just hide under my blankets to sleep off the stress and demotivating that is LSE. So what was it like studying in LSE and how is it different from studying locally? I’ve listed quite a few points below as well as my life in London in general.

 

1. Why LSE for Law? Isn’t it like, for economics?

That is very much not true. To be honest, I wanted to do economics when I doing my IGCSE. I did economics then and in A-Levels and thoroughly enjoyed every part of it. Well, it didn’t go as plan and I had to do another discipline. In college, I was very involved in MUN and since then I did develop the interest in international debates, pointing fingers and pressing liability as well as making alliance whilst destroying others. It definitely helped in building my confidence and even more my passion for talking very loudly argumentatively. Therefore, I chose law.

2. What was law school in LSE like?

Unlike the CLP I’m doing now, we only had at max 15 hours of lectures and tutorial (here, it can as many as 30 hours a week) and even then if we ever had 2 hours back-to-back, we’ll start groaning. Throughout all 3 years of university, we were needed to take 4 full modules each year. In my first year, they were all compulsory modules: Criminal Law, Introduction to Legal System (0.5), Property I (0.5), Contract Law (0.5), Tort Law (0.5) and Public Law. The (0.5) meant you’ll do one each semester. By the end of the school year, there will be a final exam.

Second year is when life gets more interesting. All the modules are free to choose so I chose: EU Law, Taxation Law, Commercial Contracts and Property II (Land and Trust). I loved every module of it and in it was so much to learn.

In my third year, all but one was free to choose. The compulsory module was Jurisprudence whilst for elective modules, I chose Elements of Accounting and Finance, Competition law and Company Law. Final year started with like a chocolate, it was bittersweet. It was the last 22 weeks in LSE of my university life and then it was adulthood. I chose the first because I wanted some knowledge on accounting whilst Competition Law was a module I was determined to take since the summer of 1st year (it was the closest I could get to anything Economics related).

© the BLSAdvocate

3. Why do you have so few hours of lectures?

12 hours of lecture is certainly not as it amounts to about 2-3 hours a day or classes. Most of my days start at 10am with the first lecture, a 2-hour break then a class at 2pm followed by another 1-hour window and then another class. You’re given this amount of free time to ideally spend it in the library doing extended and extra readings. After all, LSE isn’t called to have one of the largest libraries in the UK devoted to the social sciences for nothing.

Extended readings and reading list are mandatory for Law School students to compensate the short lecture hours you have. Lecturers just can’t afford to go at length about everything from A-Z about a case so well you’re just going to need to find that out yourself: from facts to court judgment and even read the judgment at length. For example, a chapter in Company Law was concerning “Piercing the corporate veil” where the reading was about 80 pages of pure court language and this is normal. Average individual reading time per chapter is about 4 hours for me. Unfortunately, reading lists are barely in existence here.

You’re also required to be very prepared during tutorial classes to get the full advantage. They’re much smaller in size, normally about 20 people at max. The teacher will just go in and start asking “what does the judge mean when it means “by object” doesn’t create any economic efficiencies?” “In what circumstances can an agent be made liable to the principal despite having done so outside the scope of his job?” “Why do you think the court was wrong in dissenting that the director did not breach his duties?” It’s not meant to be a mini and summary lecture but an avenue for you to demonstrate your understanding and test yourself as to how much you actually understand the subject matter. And indeed, you’ll feel small and tiny if you do not speak up.

I might sound like a total nerd but I LOVED my reading list. What I’ll often do to get different perspective is after having done the core reading, I’ll do the reading on the same chapter but from another book with another author. For any module, there are many textbooks available out there and each provides a different commentary on the matter concerned. Unfortunately, I now couldn’t afford the time due to the increase in lecture hours.

© lse.ac.uk

4. Do you get time off studies to do something else?

With 12 hours of lecture and at least 16 hours of reading time and 10 hours of homework time each week, it can average to about 8 hours of work time each day. 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, the remaining 8 hours can be put into areas to gain experience and knowledge beyond the walls of your classroom. In my uni days (wow I feel so old now) I participated in quite a few student societies but the two societies where I was more involved in were International Council of Malaysian Scholars and Associates (ICMS) and the Kesatuan Penuntut Undang-Undang Malaysia (KPUM).

ICMS is a cross-border student society with an establishment in 6 different countries. It’s a very engaging and interesting society and knowing people of different backgrounds in different cities gives an interesting outlook on things. I was part of the Malaysian Public Policy Competition committee back then and it is one of the most memorable experiences of my student years.

On the other hand, KPUM is a law society but it was in the process of reforming then so there was a lot going on and a shortage of manpower too. I helped in 2 events which were dated back to back so my days were filled with 10pm meetings, Skype calls before going to school and running errands throughout the City of London. There is also much more to do such as debating society, music society, MUN and netball for example. Life at the LSE, and London, in general, is very fast paced and it only depends how much time you’re willing to invest in it.

5. What did you enjoy most and disliked the most?

Wow, how do I start? I loved

  • The amount of independence you get for your studies
  • The lecturers in LSE are so helpful and emphatic
  • Classmates and friends are helpful
  • The accessibility of public lectures and lots of them too.
  • The busy and lively life of London
  • Student society activities taught me a lot
  • LSE taught me a lot
  • Public transport is just amazing
  • Traveling is accessible and affordable
  • All those Tumblr posts you’ve seen

What I did not enjoy so much?

  • The stress.
  • The school fees and cost of living (£17000 a year and £1200 a month, yikes)

Conclusion:

Looking back at the wonderful 3 years I had in London, I truly would not have it any other way. It taught me a lot from the independence of how to fix a light bulb to moving houses by myself, from zero knowledge about cases and statutes to flipping 200 pages of judgment in 2 hours. It taught me about resilience and most importantly, about how strong you can be once you put your mind to it.

I had my nights just asking “why I did law school?” but I never regretted taking a law degree. There were times when I look at my parents and how I felt “if only I knew the law, I could help” or “if only I could be a qualified lawyer, I could help my parents on X and Y”. Instead of saying the law is to give justice, I think it’s more about fairness and equality.

My advice to all law students, chin up and be strong. Take your time in university to explore the world much more and find what you enjoy most. Go do some volunteering or helping to organise an event. If there isn’t a committee you can join, make one! It’s going to be all worth it and you’ll make it through this.

Tort of Harassment

Harassment
Harassment in its Many Forms and Types

Harassment is a common term. Its definition as per the Oxford Dictionary means “Aggressive pressure or intimidation.” Law students that studied English Law or general public often than not thinks that there is actually a law protecting us from Harassment(at least that is what I thought). However, that is not the case in Malaysia.

 

ct-cta-anti-harassment-campaign-20151009

 

In United Kingdom, the Parliament has enacted the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 following the concern over the problem of ‘stalkers’, after several much-publicized cases in which individuals became obsessed with an ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend, a celebrity or even a mere acquaintance, and subjected them to constant and often long-term harassment. However, para material legislation does not exist in Malaysia. Thus, there is no ‘tort of harassment’ per se in Malaysia.

 

In Desiree Couture Sdn Bhd & Anor v Anne F Co. Ltd & Ors [2016] 10 MLJ 315, the High Court was invited to consider if Malaysia has a cause of action under the Tort of Harassment. Azizul Azmi Adnan JC, in his judgment at para [58] noted that:

I should however note that I found the arguments in support of the existence of the tort of harassment persuasive, and the time may well be upon us to follow the examples of Hong Kong and Singapore in recognising such a cause of action under the common law.

 

His lordship affirmed that there is no such cause of action known as ‘tort of harassment’ in Malaysia. However, he agreed that given the social changes, tort of harassment should be a valid cause of action in Malaysia. Nevertheless, his lordship did not rule on the matter and establish a new tort as it was not necessary to do so.

 

Harassment-Is-A-Crime_600

 

Following on in the Federal Court case of Mohd Ridzwan bin Abdul Razak v Azmah bt Hj Mohd Nor [2016] 4 MLJ 282, the Suriyadi Halim Omar FCJ made the following comment in his judgment under para [39]:

After mulling over the matter, we arrived at a decision to undertake some judicial activism exercise and decide that it is timely to import the tort of harassment into our legal and judicial system with sexual harassment being part of it.

 

Under para [57], his lordship continues to explain principle for the ‘tort of harassment’:

For our purpose, before defining the tortious phrase of sexual harassment, we need to know what harassment is in the first place. For brevity, when identifying the harasser or the victim, the pronouns he, she and her, apply to both gender whenever appropriate. Putting aside the statutory definition provided in the Employment (Amendment) Act 2012 and in the Employment Act 1955 as discussed earlier, Lord Sumpton in Hayes v Willoughby [2013] 1 WLR 935 acknowledged that harassment is an ‘ordinary English word with a well understood meaning.’ Citing Thomas v News Group Newspaper Ltd [2002] EMLR 78, 30, Lord Sumpton stated that harassment is, ‘persistent and deliberate course of unreasonable and oppressive conduct, targeted at another person, which calculated and does cause that person alarm, fear or distress.’ We certainly have no disagreement with such a definition.

 

Based on the underlined statement, it would seem that the elements of ‘tort of harassment’ is imported into Malaysia from the English case of Thomas v News Group Newspaper Ltd [2002] EMLR 78. However, as explain by his lordship, there is a distinction between ‘tort of harassment’ and ‘tort of sexual harassment’. In a general sense, the tort of harassment is a general heading, encompasses many type of harassment including sexual harassment. This case concerns sexual harassment. Thus, it may be argued that when Suriyadi Halim Omar FCJ says that ‘it is timely to import tort of harassment into our legal and judicial system’, it is essentially an obiter dicta. This is further supported by the fact other than the afore-quoted para, there are no other discussion on ‘tort of harassment’. Nevertheless, even though it is an obiter dicta, it is an obiter dicta from the Apex court of the land. Considering it together with Azizul Azmi Adnan JC’s judgment mentioned above, the statement that ‘tort of harassment exist in Malaysia’ may be highly persuasive.

 

In Conclusion, tort of harassment is currently, not an existing Malaysian Common Law right offered to an individual. However, pursuant to the aforementioned cases, the ‘tort of harassment’ will most likely be introduced if there is a relevant case on this issue that is in dispute in the court.

 

Edit: There is currently a global anti-harassment movement. Google ‘#MeToo’ to find out more.

Further Readings:

  1. Between Lex Lata And Lex Ferenda: An Evaluation Of The Extent Of The Right To Privacy In Malaysia [2017] 4 MLJ xxix

  2. https://canlawreport.com/metoo-movement-malaysian/

 

Equality under the law: A woman’s friend or foe?

balance-154516_640

International Women’s Day (8 March) has dawned on us once again. Regardless of ethnicity, most of us Malaysian women will not think much of the occasion as we collectively ease into the busy period that is post-CNY. At best, International Women’s Day punctuates our busy lives in the form of commercial advertisements, seizing upon the message of the day which is ‘You Deserve Better Rights‘ and turning it into ‘You Deserve Better Things‘. This is a simple but effective marketing strategy.

Jokes aside, anyone with a passing knowledge of the women’s rights movement will appreciate the importance of International Women’s Day. It is a reminder of how far we have come. Despite this, we have not yet achieved gender parity. Sexism/gender discrimination is a universal phenomenon.

In lieu of the occasion, I wanted to pose the following question to readers of this blog: Does ‘equality under the law’ help or harm women? Some of you must be thinking, ‘of course equality under the law helps women, don’t they want equality?’ Not so fast. If everybody had the same interpretation of the term ‘equality’, there would only be disagreements over whether women deserve equality or not. However, even among proponents of equality there may be disagreement over what equality should be. There is a narrower definition called formal equality and a broader definition called substantive equality.

main-qimg-4f5adf70f6d4a549a858f611ad70ead8
Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

Formal equality (“Equality”)

For ease of understanding, formal equality is depicted in as ‘Equality’ in the above illustration. This model provides that all individuals, regardless of gender, sex, race, class, etc. will be treated alike under the law. For example, individuals are governed by the same laws of contract regardless of their background. As an illustration, imagine being a pisang goreng vendor in Klang. You are a rich man. You enter into an oral agreement with a customer but they refuse to pay up and also dispute the terms of the agreement. The chances of winning a civil suit against this person depends on how the courts construe your agreement in light of the existing legal principles. The same legal principles would apply even if you were a poor woman. Seems fair, right?

Yet, because you are a rich person, you are able to sustain the legal suit for a longer period than you would have if you were poor. Since the agreement was not written, the court must decide on the balance of probabilities whose evidence is more compelling, so if the judge is sexist, you stand a better chance convincing the court as a man than a woman. Although the laws apply equally to all, the outcome differs when certain variables are tweaked, despite the merits of your case.

Substantive equality (“Equity”)

Substantive equality accounts for the wider social context and mainly concerns itself with equality of access/opportunity. The law is then modelled with the disadvantaged in mind. For example, substantive equality may be done where legal aid is automatically given to those earning below a certain level of income or 90-days maternity leave is made mandatory within the judicial service to encourage gender diversity. With those policies/laws in place, an environment is created so as to give even the ‘poor woman’ version of your pisang goreng story a shot at winning your case fair and square.

Some critics of substantive equality say that it generates inequality. They would say that men are disadvantaged because women benefit from statutorily mandated 60 days maternity leave, while men have no similar mandated law. However, it must be remembered that women are the ones recovering from pregnancy and are expected to bear the brunt of motherhood. Women are looked down upon if they shift the burden to their male partners and decide to take some time off for themselves. Another common criticism is that it fosters dependency and a victimhood mentality. This is a fair concern, as the purpose of substantive equality is to enable the disadvantaged to feel in control and in power, even when the reality appears otherwise. (P.S. The author is totally in favour of more paternity leave!)

Conclusion

In my humble opinion, substantive equality is formal equality with fries and coke on the side. In other words, it allows the creation of laws and rules with richer content and safeguards the interests of the community at large. After all, no one is an island and the more opportunities are given to people who need it the most, the healthier and happier society becomes. None of us had a choice in what families to be born in, what gender we would be assigned, nor what ethnicity we would inherit. Half of the world’s population didn’t get a choice to be born and assigned the so-called ‘weaker’ sex. Give us the equal opportunities, education and equip us with confidence. There is a lot of potential to be unleashed in each and every one of us, regardless of gender and sex.

 

The “right” in copyright

null

(I hope you’ve understood the pun)

Foreword: During the summer after my first year of law school, I did 2 internships in 2 different law firms. One of the law firms gave us a training session every week which was very interesting and something my first internship did not have. The IP partner then told us about this story and this is THE CASE that got me interested in IP law. It’s an old case but nevertheless an interesting one. Enjoy 🙂

Maxis Sdn Bhd v Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia [2004] 2 MLJ 84

Maxis is one of the strongest names in Malaysia and I’m sure that whenever someone says the word “Maxis”, a distinct green squiggly line will appear in your head. What if, Maxis was not the Maxis you knew?

The two parties in the case are Maxis Sdn Bhd on one side and the Registrar of Companies along with Maxis Group of Companies on the other (the latter is the one that we are well versed with). Maxis Sdn Bhd was incorporated in 1992 and was engaged in the business of information and system services provider in 1993. Then after, it ceased operations and became dormant. On the other hand, the principal companies in the Maxis Group of Companies do not previously carry the forename ‘Maxis’. They were formerly known by their principal name: ‘Binariang’. With subsequent changes made to their names, all the companies in the Maxis Group of Companies have the word ‘Maxis’ as its leading character. The latter was established in 1995 and was one of the first mobile communications providers in Malaysia.

Maxis Sdn Bhd sought a declaration that the Registrar was wrong in approving the use of the name “Maxis” by Maxis Group Companies and therefore, should be canceled. Maxis Group Companies counterclaimed for an interim injunction and several others for passing off. This case concerns the counterclaim.

Maxis Group of Companies now allege the defendants of passing off or assist in passing off the defendants’ business as and for that of the Maxis Group of Companies. Some of the instances are as follows:

  1. Saw and Yeoh had acquired Maxis Sdn Bhd in 2001, a then inactive company with the intention to revive it.
  2. They have incorporated Maxis Capital Sdn Bhd in 2001 by using the name Maxis as the lead name.
  3. They have caused a name change in Maxis Biotech Sdn Bhd which previously does not carry the word Maxis.
  4. Maxis Sdn Bhd, Maxis Capital Sdn Bhd and Maxis Biotech Sdn Bhd took premises in Menara Maxis that housed most of the offices of the Maxis Group of Companies.
  5. Printing letterheads and distributing name cards which carry the name Maxis in similar fashion and style as the brand name used by Maxis Group of Companies.

Defendant’s defence:

The Defendants deny that they had in any way “passing off” business as being part of Maxis Group of Companies because Maxis Sdn Bhd existed before Maxis Group of Companies did. They also stressed the fact that although they had at one point rented an office in Menara Maxis, they said it was due to the advantage of the location. Also, Maxis’s business activities are only confined to telecommunication; they have not acquired goodwill for goods or services outside this area.

*pause and drink a sip of coffee*

First things first, what is “passing off”?

Passing off occurs when someone uses very similar traits of a product/ service/ brand to create some false representation likely to induce a person to believe that the goods or services are those of another. Example:

 

It occurs when the following are satisfied in the landmark case of Reckitt & Colman Products Ltd v Borden Inc

  • The trader must establish goodwill or reputation attached to the goods/ services
  • The trader must demonstrate that the defendant made a misrepresentation
  • The trader must demonstrate that he will suffer damage by reason of erroneous belief

Each will be discussed below.

 

  1. Goodwill/ reputation

Unlike above, goodwill is easy to describe, difficult to define. It is the one thing which distinguishes an old established business from a new business at its first start. In other words, it is the business interest that the claimant is trying to protect.

Whether the claimant has the reputation (or goodwill) is a question of fact and entirely dependent on evidence showing that consumers recognize the sign as indicating origin. In simpler terms, it is the attractive force which brings in custom and that which distinguishes old business from a new. (Fletcher Challenge Ltd v Fletcher Challenge Pty Ltd)

Adding up the above, a passing off action is a remedy for the invasion of the right of property, not in the mark, name or get-up improperly used, but in the business or goodwill in which it has been used.

An argument tender by the defendant is that passing over should only exist in the line of business or services that the applicant was in. They are of the view that the applicants’ business activities are only confined to telecommunication; they have not acquired goodwill for goods or services outside this area, namely for their company Maxis Capital Sdn Bhd and Maxis Biotech Sdn Bhd.

However, case law has suggested that this is insufficient to protect the goodwill of businessman from appropriation and misuse by another businessman. It may very well extend to any business that may mislead anyone into thinking that the products or services were the goods and services of the plaintiff. This is especially where a business is a conglomerate.

Example: AirAsia also owns Tunehotel and Tunetalk. If TuneTaxi pops up, I would think 70% Malaysians (modest estimation) would think it relates to Tune Group.

This is the case EVEN IF the defendant promises that he would never enter into the same business line as the applicant. Where there is an invasion or likelihood of invasion into the rights of the property of the applicants, the cause of action is a well-founded one. Maxis has expended huge sums of money to promote and market the name ‘Maxis’ aggressively throughout this country in the field of telecommunication, which they are primarily engaged in but also to other fields of business the Group owns. It doesn’t take a lot for one to think it’s unfair that someone else should usurp the benefit when another has spent millions to develop the name.

For now, Maxis Group 1 – 0 Maxis Sdn Bhd

*Pause and eats a chocolate*

2. Misrepresentation

What is funnier than having a Maxis-named non-Maxis company breathing existence in Maxis Tower. *facepalm*

The D’s argument was that they mistook that this building is within the Multimedia Super Corridor and since such setup taking up premises there would be advantageous when it wasn’t. They even declared that they would not move into this building and reiterated that they will never set up an office there, even if they are successful in this suit.

(still, the thought of it is already baffling)

I don’t think anyone would be convinced and the judge was certainly not amused. The judge considered them to have an intention to deceive and where Kuala Lumpur being so vast and wide, and filled with available office space could have easily accommodated the defendants’ companies, they had to choose Menara Maxis. The judge notes the similarity of the name made the slip-up of by the building management into allowing them to penetrate this fortress of the Maxis Group of Companies.

On the point of Maxis using the word “Maxis”. Maxis Sdn Bhd was incorporated before Maxis Group of Companies used the name “Maxis” and as such, they had every right to use the name. They stressed that at no time they had represented themselves to be part of Maxis Group of Companies.

(Perhaps Maxis Group of Companies knew this because all the companies under the parent are named Maxis XXX Sdn Bhd)

They claimed that and yet the judge found the use of the shape, style, and character of the word ‘Maxis’ printed on these documents are almost identical to that trade name which the applicants are promoting. (I couldn’t find the exact logo of Maxis Sdn Bhd which is regrettable) Similar to the above, there are about 69 fonts in Microsoft word so why choose the one that Maxis uses and in such a form and fashion so similar to that of the applicants’ unless they did it with some sinister intentions. The crucial issue is what effect the false statement has on the minds of the claimant’s customer and make them think that this was ‘something for which the (claimant) was responsible’

On the contrary, if the consumer is not confused and does not mistaken, then there can be no misrepresentation and no liability for passing off. Looking at the above, it is difficult for this court to accept the defendants’ explanation that their actions as being reasonable and are devoid of any intention to deceive and mislead.

Maxis Group of Companies 2 – 0 Maxis Sdn Bhd

3. Likelihood of damages suffered by reason of erroneous belief

The applicant must now show that they have suffered or likely to suffer losses and must affect the goodwill of the company. The test is that the applicants need not prove “actual damage in order to succeed. Likelihood of damage is sufficient. One of the ways in which a business reputation may be injured is by the appropriation of that reputation or part of it by a third party. Such appropriation may be brought about by the adoption of a name which suggests that the person or company adopting it is in some way connected or associated with the person or company enjoying the reputation.

It is quite obvious that Maxis Group of Companies would be adversely affected by the use of the word “Maxis” by another. If any undertakings that go by the name “Maxis” were to conduct illegal dealings or be bankrupt, the general public would understand it to be somehow related to the applicant instead of being distinct.

Owing to the above reasons, Maxis Group of Companies obtained interim injunction and Maxis Sdn Bhd was precluded from conducting business using the word ‘Maxis’. An intriguing point to add is according to Bloomberg, as of January 18, 2006, Maxis Sdn Bhd operates as a subsidiary of Maxis Communications Bhd.

Comment:

Whilst reading the facts of the case and the judgment therein, I can’t help but think about the prominent staircase shot widely shared on Instagram in APW Bangsar. Before going to APW Bangsar myself, I’ve always thought that the staircase was within the property/ vicinity of BT. Little did I know when I went there, it was directly below a sushi burrito shop and NOT on the same structure as where BT was located and most commonly tagged on Instagram. The sushi burrito shop owns the stairs (or at least the landlord I presume) and not BT but since the latter popularise it so hypothetically, does it justify that BT should be allowed to call it their stairs?

I do acknowledge that Maxis Sdn Bhd had overstepped the line and became from dormant to active very shortly after Maxis was listed to be very suspicious indeed. However, where does one draw the line where a product came first but some other undertaking popularised it? The staircase (I would consider) was part of the structure of the sushi burrito shop but Breakfast Thieves was the one who popularised it so does that mean the staircase belonged to Breakfast Thieves instead?

Maxis Sdn Bhd was registered prior to Maxis Group of Companies changing their name so was it right that Maxis Sdn Bhd should be allowed to continue trading in its name? Even the judge acknowledged that this legal issue is debatable. The basic rule is that reputation and goodwill should be exclusive to the claimant but sometimes there may be a sharing of reputation such as where two companies, by coincidence, acquire a separate reputation and neither can stop the other from using the name. An example is Anheuser-Busch Inc v Budejovicky Budvar NP where BUDWEISER was the trademark of both and the net outcome was that they were forced to co-exist, neither having a right of priority over the other.

Personally, I do think it’s unfair if, by market power, one were to be allowed to dominate (and steal) another’s business because they have better resources for marketing and investing. Perhaps the truth is, the bigger company knew about the smaller company but figured it could overpower it (not suggesting this was the case in Maxis). However, market power also isn’t everything. In 2009, McCurry (short for Malaysia Chicken Curry) won it’s lawsuit against McDonald when the latter sought an injunction to prevent the former from using the prefix “Mc” in its business. The Court of Appeal stated that there were several distinguishable grounds such as the business logo was noticeably different, none of McCurry’s menu had used the prefix “Mc” and the menu was very different in that it only sold Indian food. What amounts to a “passing off” seems to me to vary quite acutely depending on the parties in the case and many other factors.

In the end, it’s up to the courts to weigh on where the balance of convenience lies and the degree of damage that would cause one an undertaking should the application be refused based on reasonable judicial principles.

Resources:

  1. Compagnie Generale Des Eaux v Compagnie Generale Des Eaux Sdn Bhd
  2. Bulmer v Bollinger
  3. Commissioners of Inland Revenue v Muller and Co Margarine
  4. https://asia.nikkei.com/Company/00C8GY-E
  5. Fletcher Challenge Ltd v Fletcher Challenge Pty Ltd
  6. Anheuser-Busch Inc v Budejovicky Budvar NP
  7. Reckitt & Colman Products Ltd v Borden Inc
  8. Helen E Norman, Intellectual Property Law

Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) – Making the Most Out of the Postgrad Course in Malaysia

Compared to the UK Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) whose syllabus is all-rounded to sharpen advocacy and drafting skills and refining techniques on legal application, the CLP as “one of the toughest examinations a law graduate will ever face” (source) involves rote learning the breadth of study materials coupled with the constant reminder at the back of your mind of it’s infamous passing rate.

Paperwork

However, there are many benefits to being in Malaysia that you can take advantage of. Here’s 4 things you can do to enrich your CLP journey and turn it into an all-encompassing learning experience that may be beneficial in kick starting your career as a young lawyer.

1. Internships

With the flexibility of doing part-time or full-time studies for CLP, this is a good chance to do internships that you didn’t secure during your degree days. There are so many areas of law to explore – criminal, family, banking & commercial, employment, tax, human rights, entertainment, and intellectual property to name a few. This could be one of your last few opportunities to get a taste of different areas before you delve deeper into it as a chambering student. During the internship you would also be exposed to the realities of the working world that would better prepare you for when you join the workforce (perhaps you’ll realise that student life is actually the best and appreciate it more).

Aside from the areas of law, internships are also an opportunity for you to try different practices such as court litigation, corporate advisory, or arbitration among others. Each practice has emphasis on a certain skills over the other, for example, advocacy in litigation and being meticulous with a sharp eye for detail in corporate. These are not one size fits all approaches and discovering which is a better fit to your character and personality is helpful for targeted pupillage applications. During university, I did an internship in dispute resolution but had no idea of the workings of the corporate world so I was really glad to get experience from a corporate internship done during the first month of CLP.

Internships are of course not only restricted to the legal industry and you can aim to diversify your CV by doing non-law related internships in fields such as accounting, business, consulting, or even the creative industry of arts and design! Learning the basics of other trades will expose you to different perspectives and angles of problem solving. If the CLP is your last level of study, it is the last time you are a student and able to try different things hence why it is important to try and make full use of the time on your hands to gain these experiences.

2. Attend law events 

What I found as the main advantage of being back in Malaysia compared to UK is the ease of connecting with your potential future employers through the events held from time to time. Many law firms conduct talks on legal knowledge and workshops for development of skills that are open to law students. These events are also a networking platform to get to know lawyers and partners to find out about their work. These conversations would enable you to understand the firm’s culture, the pupillage structure, and help you to be better prepared for interviews.

I had the opportunity to attend a coffee session with a partner of a boutique law firm with a small group of law students and it shed light on the differences of the prospective pathway of being made partner compared to setting up your own law firm after some years of practice. It definitely provided food for thought and gave me valuable tips of what I should keep in mind to develop and take my legal career one step further in future.

ladder-cloud-56a437203df78cf7728151c5

Other than events held by law firms, the Malaysian Bar and KL Bar also regularly holds events open to law students. Some of these workshops help to improve legal skills such as drafting written submissions (source) and learning a thing or two from here may help in transitioning from degree-level academic exam answers to a more practical approach for CLP.

Some events touch on personal development such as one I attended which talked about business development and building a career beyond legal skills. Among the key points were to consider specialisation and to place importance on personal branding to put yourself out there and stand out from the crowd. Law school has little to offer on these aspects and it is through taking the initiative to go beyond what is provided that you equip yourself with an overarching mindset to make informed decisions.

3. A part-time job

Always wanted to be a barista or service staff at a cafe? Do it. Good at baking delicious treats? Make them for sale. Have passion for photography and video editing? Take up those projects. As I was interested in writing, I almost took up a part time copywriting job but the pay and logistics didn’t turn out to be favourable with my circumstances at that time so I had to give it a miss.

Taking up a part time job is a good way to channel your energy into your non-legal interests and earn some side income from it. It broadens your social circle out of the legal industry and develops people skills which might come in handy when dealing with clients from all walks of life.

4. Participate in student activities 

Within law school itself are plenty of opportunities you can take to have valuable gains. Join competitions like mooting and student events like firm tours, lawatan sambil belajar to different institutions to maximise your exposure. All in all, these will help promote a wholesome experience that will leave you feeling satisfied and fulfilled at the end of the day.

Of course, each of the above should be done in moderation with the ultimate focus being to pass the CLP examinations. But at the final stage as a student before becoming a working professional, going all out to take opportunities as they come by would be a good way to end this chapter knowing you’ve tried to be the best version of a student as you could be.

“In the end … We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” ― Lewis Carroll