Protecting and monitoring intellectual property (IP) is challenging almost anywhere in the world, but it is particularly challenging within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Currently, a patchwork of laws attempts to address technological advances and the differing needs of producers, owners and users of intellectual property. Yet, despite a host of IP laws in the GCC region, regulations are perceived to be lax and laws rarely enforced adequately. As a result, the trade of infringed goods continues at a stunning pace.

Strong profits and lax enforcement encourages traders to illegally trade and distribute infringed products. Famous trademarks are routinely used without permission throughout the Middle East leading many to believe that a set of unified IP laws among GCC countries is needed. The touted advantage of a unified GCC IP law would remove the possibility of different infringement and validity outcomes in different member states and remove barriers to enforcement. Companies that would register their intellectual property under unified a GCC law would also benefit from a unified front, giving them a bigger stick to wield over possible infringers. Overall, it would likely resolve ambiguities, enable cost effective enforcement in an efficient manner, and safeguard the holders’ rights in a wider region.

Where We Stand Today.

Patents. The unified GCC patent system, already in place, is proving to be a valuable tool at the disposal of patent applicants as they facilitate the protection of patents in each of the GCC member states. Based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabiathe GCC patent office provides a centralised system for obtaining patent protection in all six states of the GCC. This system provides benefits such as cost reduction and provision for longer patent terms than if applied for via a national office—20 years duration as opposed to a typical 15 years.

Trademarks. A GCC Trademark Law was issued in 2006 but has yet to be ratified by all GCC member states. While the proposed law does not intend to create a common GCC trademark registration such as the GCC patent system, it does aim to unify trademark laws in the GCC countries.

Copyrights. The number of copyrights registered annually in GCC countries is relatively small and copyright litigation in GCC countries is rare. However, when it does occur it can be time consuming and costly to copyright holders. Although a unified system for copyrights does not exist, registering copyrights in GCC countries, individually, is recommended to maximise protection—in most cases infringers are subject to limited damages, fines and possible imprisonment. When taking stock of copyrights in GCC countries, it is important to keep the jurisdiction in mind and local advice should always be sought to avoid unpleasant surprises.

What You Can Do.

Evolving IP laws in GCC countries typically find corporations struggling to keep pace. Foreign businesses and investors find legal systems in the GCC quite complicated. Those unfamiliar with their workings can find the process very difficult. Although IP laws in the region are different than those in the west, and vary from state to state, the basic legal principles and structures are in fact logical and understandable. Foreign businesses and investors would do well to employ lawyers who have a detailed understanding of all aspects of intellectual property law, and regularly handle wide range of IP disciplines in each GCC country where unified law does not exisit.