The increasing importance given to the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) was emphasised last year when the United States and China came to the brink of a trade war. China's apparent reluctance to enforce international IPR standards governing intellectual property rights effectively condones the illegal copying and selling of videos, films, music cassettes and computer software, and causes U.S. industry to lose millions of dollars a year.
Here in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates stands out as a country that recognises the importance of IPR and is actively combating the piracy problem.
The UAE has three IPR laws dealing with trade-mark, copyright, and patent protection that were implemented in 1993. It was only recently, however, that effective enforcement by customs, police and the courts began to take effect, with confiscations of imitation trade-mark products, the prosecution of offenders through the courts, and the closure of retail outlets selling such merchandise.
Such enforcement action can only be taken if the intellectual property owner lodges a complaint.
The piracy of intellectual property can seriously harm a country's economic development, as it deters foreign investment and hinders the profitable introduction of new products into the market. What steps can the UAE take to further enforce IPR? As yet there is no precedent to assess damages. The first step should be the imposition of heavier fines by the courts. Another step would be the extension of protection to certain product patents for pharmaceuticals, as the absence of protection in this area has led to complaints from the international pharmaceutical industry.
Multi-national drug companies are encouraging developing countries to legislate and enforce effective patent laws. Those countries with effective track records are receiving highly prized research and development jobs and new investment. Here in the UAE, international pharmaceutical companies need for their own protection certain amendments to current patent laws, and stronger enforcement. In return, these companies promise to improve their investment in the UAE.
Is this a justified assessment or are these large companies acting out of self interest alone? It is believed by many in the business community that foreign investment has improved because of the Government's stance on IPR, as it has given foreign investors the confidence to introduce products into the UAE without fear of piracy.
The UAE is becoming the leading country on IPR enforcement in the Middle East. Last year the UAE Federal Supreme Court ruled against a Dubai firm for violating the trademark of a foreign company.
In a few short years, the UAE has moved from a haven for product imitators to a country that understands the relationships between intellectual property ownership and economic strength. While investment has begun to flow into the Emirates, international investors are still wary. Therefore it makes sense to extend and enforce the current IPR legislation, thus enabling the people of the UAE to prosper from increased levels of overseas investment. It is a particularly good idea, for it will give major international corporations the confidence to consider using the UAE as a manufacturing base from which to export to Europe and Asia.