x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Patents are a tool to diversify economy

Without patents and better protections for intellectual property, potentially profitable ideas will just go elsewhere.

For most of us, the words "theft of intellectual property" evokes the notion of pirated pop songs or illicit movie downloads. That's natural, since almost everyone listens to music and watches movies. And those issues are important, not only to thousands of struggling musicians and dozens of Hollywood and Bollywood film studios, but also to many millions of fans.

However, "intellectual property", or IP, covers more than popular culture. Accordingly improvements to the UAE's IP law, soon to be announced by the Ministry of Economy, will also cover some topics of less popular interest, notably patent law.

Efficient patent law - well-policed and properly administered - can be a vital part of the legal infrastructure to support technological innovation in the "knowledge economy" every country aspires to build. Without it, potentially profitable ideas just go elsewhere.

Experts quoted in The National yesterday said patenting any invention takes far longer in the UAE, and across the Middle East, than in other countries. Streamlined processes, close cooperation with international patent regimes and better enforcement have all become essential. So is providing the court system with the expertise to cope with cases in this domain, which can be intimidating in their complexity.

Setting out these goals is simple in theory, but translating such ideals into law and practice are the real challenge. Officials will have their work cut out for them, but this is a challenge that must be met.

While patents and related issues are highly important, the more familiar issue of pirating creative works - movies, music, books and much more - also deserves attention. Here the commercial framework, like the legal one, is in play. Apple's iTunes has provided a legitimate, lucrative and growing alternative to illegal downloading, but until the Middle East has a functioning clearing house for music rights, online services face a powerful disincentive to offer the music produced in this region.

As it waits for such changes, the music industry could find innovative ways to help themselves, particularly by building their own websites and selling content online. After all, government can't do everything.