x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

That which is mine is not thine

The Life: Try mediation instead of going to court to solve intellectual property rights issues, says a UAE-based expert.

Anwar Imam of Tawilati.com says it is important to protect one's IP through a contract. Satish Kumar / The National
Anwar Imam of Tawilati.com says it is important to protect one's IP through a contract. Satish Kumar / The National

A blue-and-white, one-word logo, where the last four letters read "book" might evoke one particular association.

But Mahananda Moy Banerji's Dubai-based executive recruitment firm - Youbook - has little in common with the social networking giant Facebook.

Mr Banerji's company opened in February and recruits high-level executives with salaries of US$10,000 (Dh36,732) a month and upwards. The name of his company was inspired by successful and trending names in the business world, he said, while blue is his favourite colour.

"It was a catchy name keeping in mind the young, trendy, energetic … team we have at our place," Mr Banerji said. "And we have not been approached by any agency [to change it]."

A company's intellectual property (IP) rights extend to logos, brand names and designs, apart from trade secrets such as product formulas, as in the case of Coca-Cola, as well as patent rights for techniques, such as a pull-ring soda can top. But instead of going to a court to resolve IP-related disputes, it is better to take the mediation route, said Anwar Imam, an entrepreneur.

"Identify your IP and protect it through contract," said Mr Imam, co-founder of Tawilati.com, a restaurant search portal.

Currently, he says, he is developing technology and innovation policies as a consultant.

Intellectual property can be anything that a person or an entity creates to add value to its product. This can include applications, formulas, artistic works, machines or inventions. And these can be protected through copyrights, patents, trademarks or trade secrets.

Under a law passed in the UAE in 2002, copyright infringement is punishable by a minimum fine of Dh10,000 and two months in prison.

But protecting IP rights is not always easy.

If a designer submits plans for a lobby space to a building management and it is not selected, the designer must ensure that the building management does not use it in future projects and after their relationship is terminated.

People behind a particular innovation also must continue to monitor the use of their intellectual property and be aware of how it is used. "Turn up at trade events," for instance, Mr Imam said.

But what irks Mohamed Somji, who runs Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, is that there are no easy-to-find guidelines in the UAE regarding IP rights, and no simple go-to place when looking to sort out IP-rights issues. His firm holds photography exhibitions at a gallery in Al Quoz and also runs photography education classes.

"There is a lack of awareness and enforcement," Mr Somji said. "I take a picture, I put it on website, somebody takes a screen shot [and uses it]; I don't know where to start and have to hire a lawyer."

His firm also holds seminars with lawyers who specialise in media uses of IP to speak to photographers who sign up to be members of Gulf Photo Plus.

There is no performance rights organisation in the UAE on the same scale as groups such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc (BMI) or SESAC in the United States and PRS for Music in the United Kingdom.

As a result, it is up to the creators of intellectual property such as business owners to be alert.

"Try mediation," Mr Imam said. "Courts should be the last resort, because it is costly and there are simpler ways to solve [IP rights] issues; it is better to pick up the phone."

While the UAE has most of the laws in place to protect IP rights, it is the enforcement that is the issue, he said. In the Emirates, the Ministry of Economy is the place to go to with IP issues.

Meanwhile, Mr Banerji said he was rebranding his firm Youbook's logo as he plans to expand his company to Singapore in four months.

The name of the company would remain the same, and his favourite blue colour would still be there. But it would be a green and blue logo, rather than a blue and white one.

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