The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries in the world. Its legal system is based on Sharia principles, derived from the teachings of the Quran and the  Sunnah. There is no system of binding precedent, with judges having the power to use independent  legal reasoning to reach a decision in any matter.

In recent matters we have handled before the Saudi Courts, the Judges have outlined how and where Sharia can apply to intellectual property rights.

In relation to the question of confusion between potentially conflicting trade marks, the Courts  have commented that:

“…there is similarity between the marks. This similarity leads to confusion among consumers and  causes damage to them. Sharia prohibits the infliction of such damage based on the principle “no  harm shall be done, nor harm done in return”…”

The Courts have also stated that such protection is confirmed in Islamic jurisprudence:

“…which calls for protecting rights and properties of all types, including trade marks…”.

As well as the Courts, leading Islamic academic institutions have provided their views on the  impact of Sharia and intellectual property rights. This was addressed by the Islamic Fiqh Academy  (an academy for the advanced study of Islam) which during its Fifth Summit in Kuwait:

“…classified moral rights as protected financial rights that are governed by the Sharia practices with regards to property… trade names, trade addresses trade  marks, authorship, inventions and innovations are all rights which belong to their owners and have  in the present day customs a financial value. Such rights are recognised in Sharia and shall not be  infringed upon…”

However, the principles largely revolve around “ownership”. Issues can arise where the rights being relied upon are unregistered rights, particularly in cases  where registrations are not held in Saudi Arabia. In such cases the Courts may question whether  unregistered rights can “belong” to the owner.

We look further below into issues which IP owners commonly face in Saudi Arabia. In our experience,  it is possible for protectable intellectual property rights to be created, recognised and protected  in Saudi Arabia, and thereby unlocking the potential to one of the most important markets in the region.