Kuwait has long been a target of copyright industry lobby groups seeking improved protection for intellectual property rights in the Middle East.

On 2 September 2014, Kuwait became the 169th country to accede to the Berne Convention for the  Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention). Also, on the same day, Kuwait acceded to the Paris Convention of the Protection of Industrial Property  (Paris Convention).

As a result of these accessions, Kuwait will become a member of both the Paris and Berne  Conventions on 2 December 2014.

A cause for celebration? Will copyright industry lobbyists now be relaxing on the basis that they  have completed their goals for Kuwait?

This article considers the likely impact of the Berne and Paris Conventions in Kuwait. Will they  turn Kuwait from an IP Zero to an IP Hero?

Background

The protection of intellectual property rights is nothing new in Kuwait. Kuwait’s laws on patents  and designs, on trade marks and on copyright date back to 1962, 1980 and 1999 respectively.

On 1 January 1995, Kuwait became a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). By virtue of its  WTO membership, Kuwait agreed to adhere to implement the provisions of the Agreement on  Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

However, apart from enacting legislation to protect copyright works in 1999 in the form of Law No.  64 of 1999 concerning Intellectual Property Rights (the Copyright Law) and making minor amendments  to its domestic intellectual property laws in 2001, Kuwait has not taken steps to adhere to the  provisions of TRIPS.

Kuwait’s position in relation to copyright has come in for particular criticism from the US  Government and from copyright industry lobby groups. Specific concerns have been raised that the  penalties under the Copyright Law are too light and that enforcement of the Copyright Law is, in  practice, too weak. As a result, Kuwait has become a constant presence on the Watch List contained within the annual Special 301 report prepared by the Office of the US  Trade Representative (USTR) on an annual basis. The presence of a country on the Watch List indicates that the USTR considers that country to have particular problems with  respect to IP protection, enforcement or market access.

In the most recent Special 301 report published in April 2014, the USTR stated that it would  conduct an out-of-cycle review of Kuwait in September 2014 to assess whether it should be moved to  the Priority Watch List for “increased bilateral attention”. The USTR specifically identified the  introduction of copyright legislation that is “consistent with international standards” and  resumption of enforcement against copyright and trade mark infringement as key targets to be met by  September 2014.

Now, with Kuwait joining both the Berne and Paris Conventions all six countries which comprise the  Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) are members of both treaties.

Impact of the Berne Convention

By virtue of its WTO membership, Kuwait became bound to implement Articles 1 to 21 of the Berne  Convention and, in fact, Kuwait almost entirely incorporated these provisions into national law  when it enacted the Copyright Law in 1999.

The concerns which have been raised by the USTR and by the copyright industry lobby are outside the  scope of the Berne Convention. For example, the International Intellectual Property Alliance  (IIPA), which is a private sector coalition representing US copyright-based industries, has issued reports pushing for Kuwait  to accede to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and to amend  its Copyright Law by:

  • increasing the fines and prison sentences imposed;
  • reducing the moral rights protected afforded to authors;
  • implementing protection against the parallel importation of copies of works, phonograms and  performances; and
  • extending the term of protection from life plus 50 years (as set out in the Berne Convention) to  life plus 70 years for works of natural authors, and to 95 years from publication for audio-visual works and sound recordings.

IIPA clearly considers that piracy in Kuwait remains a key concern for its members. However, the  changes sought by the IIPA go beyond the requirements set out in Berne.

Impact of the Paris Convention

Kuwait has approved its accession to the Paris Convention by way of Law No. 36 and, accordingly,  the Paris Convention will become law in Kuwait with effect from 2 December 2014. This should have  an impact in relation to trade marks, patents and designs as follows:

  • Priority claims for trade marks: As of 2 December 2014, it should be possible for trade mark  applicants to claim priority (within the six month priority period) from corresponding applications  filed in any of the other 175 member states of the Paris Convention under Article 4 of the  Convention. Until now, priority claims have not been available for trade mark applications in  Kuwait. To date, no guidance has been issued as to what priority documentation will be required by the  Kuwait Trade Marks Office. Under the Paris Convention, a certified copy of the priority application  can be requested (which should not require authentication), and can be filed within three months  from the date of filing the application.
  • Well-known Marks: Article 62(5) of the Kuwait Trade Law No. 68 of 1980 (as amended by Law No. 1  of 2001) prohibits the registration of trade marks which are identical or confusingly similar to  trade marks that are famous in Kuwait. However, there are no provisions in the Kuwait Trade Mark  Law which deal with the infringement of well- known or famous marks. Article 6bis of the Paris Convention provides that member states should prohibit the use of trade  marks which constitute a reproduction, imitation or translation of a well-known mark (or a mark  which is confusingly similar to a well-known mark). Accordingly, with effect from 2 December 2014,  it should be possible to take effective action in Kuwait to prevent the unauthorised use of well-  known trade marks.
  • Unfair Competition: Under Article 10bis of the Paris Convention, Kuwait is bound to provide  effective protection against unfair competition. Under the Paris Convention, any act of competition  that is contrary to honest practices in industrial or commercial matters constitutes an act of  unfair competition. Accordingly, as from 2 December 2014, it should be more straightforward to bring actions in Kuwait  to restrain acts of unfair competition, for example in relation to the use of indications (such as  unregistered trade marks) which are likely to cause confusion.
  • Priority claims for patents and designs: Unlike the position with regard to trade marks, it is already possible to claim priority for patent and design  applications. Article 50 of Law No. 4 of 1962 relating to Patents, Designs and Industrial Models as  amended by Law No. 3 of 2001 (the Patent Law) provides a right for an applicant in Kuwait to claim  priority (during a 12 month priority period) from an application filed in a foreign country that  accords Kuwait with reciprocal treatment.

However, the right to priority under the Patent Law  is dependent on reciprocal treatment being  available. This is not the case under the Paris Convention and any one of the 175 other members of the Paris  Convention should now be able to claim priority in Kuwait without any concern that, as a matter of  law and practice, their home country offers full reciprocal treatment to Kuwaiti nationals. It is worth noting, however, that the Kuwait Patent Office does not currently examine, publish or  grant patents. Accordingly, many patentees seeking protection in Kuwait prefer to apply to the GCC  Patent Office (where 12 months priority is also available).

Conclusion

To come back to our initial question, does Kuwait’s accession to the Berne and Paris Conventions  take it from IP Zero to IP Hero? In our view, the answer is no.

Kuwait’s IP laws have by and large met the standards of the Berne and Paris Conventions for many  years. Accordingly, while the introduction of a six month priority period for trade mark  applications in Kuwait is certainly welcome,  the accession to the Berne and Paris Conventions will  not in itself have a significant impact on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property  rights in Kuwait.

However, this development does perhaps provide a signal that Kuwait is responding to concerns  raised by the USTR and copyright industry lobby groups, and that there may be further developments in the pipeline.