The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates that includes Abu Dhabi (the capital), Dubai, Ajman, Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Located in the north-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, it is bordered by the Gulf of Oman to the east, the Persian Gulf to the west and is dwarfed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Its population is estimated to be in the region of four million.
So why are you reading about it? As a country it has a much higher profile internationally than its size should warrant. There are good reasons for this. Rich in oil reserves, it has focused on attracting business and tourism, and, as a consequence, has become the preferred location for business in the Middle East. The UAE, and particularly Dubai, do things on a grand scale. Current projects include: the World, an extraordinary cluster of 250 artificial islands built in the shape of the world; the Burj Dubai tower, which aims to be the tallest tower and the biggest shopping mall in the world; and the Burj Al Arab, a billowing sail-shaped hotel located off the shores of Dubai. There are several business orientated free zones, which together with the technology, media and Internet cities and the international financial centre are designed to encourage new business. Dubai’s ports are some of the world’s busiest, ranking third internationally, based on the number of 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers that transit through them.
Since the country only came into existence in 1971, the IP regime in the UAE is still developing, but it is progressing rapidly. The first IP laws were enacted in 1992 and updated in 2002. The UAE’s government understands the importance of a sound IP regime. In the short term, observers anticipate the announcement of more detailed procedures, to provide greater certainty overall. Local laws and practice relating to patents and customs, are supplemented with laws issued by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). The GCC consists of six countries on the Arabian Peninsula – Bahrain, Kuwait, Quatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – that are moving towards a European style Union.
Registration and renewals
With a small local population, estimated to be less than 25% of the overall population of the UAE, and relatively new IP laws, it is not surprising that IP procedures are not as well established compared to countries with longer histories of IP regimes. It is only within the last year, for example, that the first patents have been granted. Initially applications were accepted by the UAE Patent Office, located in Abu Dhabi. In 2000, an agreement was reached between the UAE Patent Office and the Austrian Patent Office, which empowers Austrian examiners to examine applications filed in the UAE.
The 1992 Trademark Law had implementing regulations. The implementing regulations for the 2002 Trademark Law are yet to be published. The issue of trademark renewals is particularly significant. The first federal trademark registrations were granted in 1993. The first renewals, therefore, had to take place last year, in 2003. The Trademark Office has had to deal with many issues relating to renewals including fees, publication and changes of agent. The Trademark Registrar has resolved a number of these issues. However, they are not published yet, and observers expect them to be incorporated in the Implementing Regulations.
Many applications have been filed for designs. But the examination committee has not been constituted, so applications have not been examined. There is now a considerable backlog in applications. The United Arab Emirates Network Information Centre (UAENIC) handles ‘.ae’ domain name registrations and the process is relatively straightforward.
Like a number of other countries in the Persian Gulf, official fees for processing all IP transactions are high in the UAE. This applies to official fees such as trademark renewals, as well as related transactions. This acts as a barrier to entry. During the last 10 years only some 50,000 trademarks have been registered. If the fees had been closer to $200, rather than the $2,000 they actually are, more trademarks might have been registered. By setting cheaper fees, the Trademark Office might have generated more income and provided itself with more resources.
Like a number of other countries in the Persian Gulf, in the UAE, the official fees for processing all IP transactions are relatively high. This applies to official fees such as those for trademark renewals, as well as related transactions. This does act as a barrier to entry.
Enforcing IP Rights is relatively straightforward. Practitioners from around the world will be familiar with procedures governing actions brought through the civil court, with the police or the public prosecutor. Some government departments have jurisdiction over infringement of registered trademarks. These include sections within the Department for Economic Development in Dubai and Sharjah and a section within Abu Dhabi municipality. They are given a quasijudicial authority to punish infringers, seize and destroy goods and impose fines, but cannot order that compensation is paid to a brand owner. Administrative officials have settled the vast majority of trademark infringement actions during the past 12 years, particularly in Sharjah and Dubai. A far fewer number of cases have gone to court, but as more cases (particularly criminal prosecutions) are brought to court, judges have become more familiar with infringement issues. They are assisted in their enforcement work by WIPO, the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition and the World Customs Organization.
At present there is no unified federal customs authority. Like the courts and administrative bodies, each emirate has its own system. Each emirate’s customs authority is responsible for enforcement. With such a huge volume of trade in goods in transit, more coordination at a federal level is needed, although the GCC Customs Law, which provides for a single Customs Union with free movement of goods internally, does allow for detention of goods in transit.
Although the UAE is no longer on the US Watch List, piracy is still quite a significant issue. There are many reports in the local press about the arrests of infringers, and the seizures and destruction of pirated goods, but these are limited mainly to copyright.
The UAE has signed up to the following treaties:
- Berne Convention for the Protection Literary and Artistic Work
- Paris Convention for the Protection Industrial Property
- Patent Cooperation Treaty
- WIPO Convention
- WIPO Copyright Treaty
AT A GLANCE… NATIONAL LEGISLATION
Current IP laws in force in the UAE:
Patents, Designs and Industrial Models Law, No. 17 of 2002
The Patents, Designs and Industrial Models Law, No. 17 of 2002, which protects a patent for up to 20 years and a utility patent for 10 years. Patents need to be worked within four years of filing. Designs are protected for up to 15 years from the date of registration.
Trademark Law No. 8 of 2002
Trademark Law No. 8 of 2002, under this law; trademarks are valid for 10 years from date of filing and can be renewed for periods of 10 years.
Copyright Law No. 7 of 2002
The Copyright Law No. 7 of 2002, which is optional, grants protection for the lifetime of the author plus 25 years. This applies to cinematographic films, works of art, works made by corporate bodies and works of art published under pen names.
Photographic works are protected for 10 years only.
Prevention of Fraud and Deception in Commercial Dealings Law No. 4 of 1979
Prevention of Fraud and Deception in Commercial Dealings Law No. 4 of 1979. This law has been crucial to businesses seeking to protect unregistered marks or their products from those that imitate packaging get up.
This article first appeared in IP Review, issue 8