The following review of Qatar’s trade secrets laws continues the series of trade secrets law reviews for the Middle East and North Africa (“MENA”). Qatar has a comprehensive legal regime in place for the protection of trade secrets, perhaps more so than its GCC counterparts. First and foremost, it has enacted a law to specifically address the protection of trade secrets (Law No. 5 of 2005 on Trade Secrets) (the “Trade Secrets Law”). However, Qatar also offers additional safeguards under its labour, intellectual property, criminal and commercial laws, as summarized below. It is also worth noting that despite the protection already conferred by law, it is common practice in Qatar to address trade secrets and other confidential information by contract.
Trade Secrets Law
- In order for information to be considered a trade secret it must satisfy the following:
- the information is, in whole or in part, not generally known to the public or is not easily obtainable by persons whom usually deal with the same type of information;
- derives its economic value by and through its confidentiality; and
- its confidentiality depends on effective measures taken by its holder to preserve it. (Article 1)
- The “holder of a trade secret” is defined as a natural or legal person who has the right to disclose, use or keep the confidential information (the “Holder”). The Trade Secrets Law grants such Holder the freedom to share the trade secret with any third party (with or without consideration), as well as to prohibit and/or control the use or disclosure of such information by third parties. (Articles 1, 3, and 4).
- A specific exemption is provided for the disclosure of trade secrets by governmental authorities for the protection of the general public or for purposes of preventing illegitimate commercial use of such information. (Article 5).
- The Holder is entitled to demand compensation resulting from the infringement or misuse of the trade secret by filing an application before the courts, subject to the deposit of a bank or cash guarantee with the court treasury in an amount estimated by the court (this deposit will only be returned if the court rules in the Holder’s favor). The court may order the following precautionary measures: (i) an injunction aimed at halting the infringement of the trade secret; (ii) attachment of any items in relation to which the trade secret is being infringed and (iii) the seizure of evidence related to alleged infringement. (Article 8). A defendant may demand compensation for any damages resulting from either a wrongful request by the Holder for such precautionary measures or the Holder’s failure to file a lawsuit within fifteen (15) days of the application. (Article 9).
- Persons convicted under the Trade Secrets Law shall be subject to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one (1) year and/or a fine not exceeding fifty thousand Qatari Riyals (QAR 50,000).
Law No. 14 of 2004 (the “Labour Law”)
- The Labour Law imposes a mandatory obligation on an employee to maintain the confidentiality of the employer’s trade secrets. (Article 42(8)). Breach of this obligation entitles the employer to terminate the employee without notice and without paying any end of service gratuity. (Article 61(5)).
- Furthermore, if the employee is exposed to the trade secrets of an employer during his/her course of employment, the Labour Law permits such employer to impose a non-compete on the employee following termination of employment for a period not exceeding one (1) year. (Article 43).
Law No. 11 of 2015 (the “Commercial Companies Law’)
The Commercial Companies Law imposes an obligation to maintain the “secrets of a company” on the following:
- the auditor of a company (including an obligation not to disclose such secrets to any shareholder of a company unless in the context of a general assembly meeting) (Article 151);
- a public official who obtains the secret during the course of his work (Article 334(9)); and
- the chairperson, director and employee of a company (Article 334(11)).
Law No. 11 of 2005 (the “Penal Code”)
Unless a more severe punishment is stipulated in another law, any individual whom, without consent, reveals or utilizes (for personal purposes), a trade secret obtained by virtue of their profession or occupation may be subject to imprisonment for up to two (2) years and/or a fine of up to ten thousand Qatari Riyals (QAR 10,000) (Article 332).