Exclusive: Global trademark body wants GCC governments to strengthen laws
Robust intellectual property frameworks will encourage growth of SMEs, says chief of International Trademark Association
GCC governments have been urged to tighten intellectual property and trademark laws to protect businesses, particularly as the region focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises as the backbone of economic growth.
“It is crucial that wherever there is talk of economic diversification and innovation, as there is in the GCC, there is also talk of intellectual property rights,” said Etienne Sanz de Acedo, chief executive of the International Trademark Association (Inta).
Inta, the largest body of its kind in the world, is a global membership organisation comprising 7,200 trademark owners, lawyers, academics and other experts from 191 countries. It aims to influence policy development, support practitioners with training and guidance, strengthen legal frameworks around intellectual property (IP) and trademark laws around the world to increase business growth and consumer trust.
During a members’ meeting in Dubai this month, Inta signed a series of agreements with UAE government bodies including the Emirates Intellectual Property Association, Dubai Customs and the Department of Economic Development, to promote and develop IP in the country.
A company’s trademark is their “business identification card”, without which they cannot market themselves and grow, Mr de Acedo said. Because of this, businesses of all sizes rely on robust IP laws and mechanisms to protect their trademark, should a rival try to emulate or steal their ideas.
For start-ups and entrepreneurs, the efficacy of a country’s IP framework is a key factor in determining whether or not to set up operations in that jurisdiction, he noted.
Boosting the contribution of SMEs to national economies is a key plank of many hydrocarbon dependent states of the Arabian Gulf, as they cut their reliance on crude proceeds to fuel their economies. Strengthening IP frameworks, therefore, makes all the more sense for the GCC.
In Dubai, SMEs account for less than 40 per cent of total gross domestic product, but the Dubai SME 2021 Strategic Plan aims to increase this share to 45 per cent by 2021.
Inta regards the UAE “as a champion of IP in the region”, which has seen a steady increase in trademark and patent registrations in the past decade, Mr de Acedo said.
In 2017, there were 36,987 registrations of new trademarks in the UAE, almost double the 18,920 recorded in 2011, according to statistics from the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Yet there is more work to be done. In particular, Inta aims to help countries tackle forgery and counterfeiting both online and offline, harmonise international IP laws and standards, and make it easier for businesses to register patents.
“Counterfeiting is a major problem in the region and beyond,” Inta chief executive said. “It poses risks for public health and safety. Think about the rise of e-commerce and the potential for fraudulent medicines, cosmetics, toys and other products to be bought and sold,” the Inta chief executive said.
The UAE is not a member of the Madrid Protocol, the international trademark system that enables companies to protect their brand in 90 member jurisdictions through a single application, reducing the cost for businesses and broadening their legal rights. In the GCC, only Bahrain and Oman are signatories of the treaty.
Inta has sought to encourage the UAE to join the Madrid Protocol and Mr de Acedo said he has heard there is an intention to join, which is “good news”.
“Becoming part of these international treaties is always positive for countries and businesses,” he said.
Inta is also stepping up warnings to authorities of the risks of brand restrictions such as plain packaging rules imposed on tobacco companies.
“There is a danger that plain packaging rules, which prevent brands from putting their trademark on an item for sale, could be extended beyond companies selling harmful products, and reduce their commercial power,” Mr de Acedo said.
Updated: December 27, 2018 09:51 AM