Innovation is set to be a driving force of the economy for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and for countries in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC).

There are national, social and economic plans that have as their aim (or part of their aim) the creation and commercialisation of innovation and inventions created in the region. For example, the UAE Vision 2021 aims to make the UAE a “knowledge-based and highly productive economy” where “growth is driven by knowledge and innovation”.

GCC policymakers understand the need to counterbalance dependence of their economies on limited reserves of hydrocarbons. The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision for 2030 expressly acknowledges this stating that “Abu Dhabi will seek to foster non-oil GDP growth at a higher rate than that in the oil sector as part of efforts to diversify.” The aim is for balance to be achieved between oil related and non-oil related trade until 2028. Similar approaches are set out in the Saudi Arabian National Science, Technology and Innovation Plan (NSTIP) which expresses a desire to “join the advanced knowledge-based economies with a highly competitive science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystem by 2025”. The Qatar Foundation views research as “essential to national and regional growth as the means to diversify the nation’s economy, enhance educational offerings and develop areas that affect the community”.

In order to achieve these ambitious targets, research and development carried out by higher education providers may prove to be a key proponent for growth. It has been noted that “quality tertiary education systems are a precondition for productive, sustainable and competitive societies, laying the foundation for citizens to thrive in the new economy. This is recognised throughout the region, as GCC countries seek to reform their education systems in an effort to make them more efficient and robust. In 2013, the UAE Government set aside AED 3.9bn for the specific growth of higher education with an emphasis on promoting scientific research in universities, funding study abroad for Emiratis and upgrading buildings and equipment at government universities.

Consequently, it is clear that the political and economic motivation exists for the UAE (and other countries in the GCC) to succeed in an area that requires specialist expertise across a range of disciplines. Not least of these is the need to ensure that the fundamental legal protection provided by intellectual property (“IP”) law is available to provide protection for activities associated with research and development.

The UAE has a sophisticated IP regime and is a signatory to all major international treaties such as the Paris Convention , TRIPS , the PCT and the Berne Convention. These treaties provide for and seek to harmonize with other jurisdictions the key elements for the protection of inventions, literary works and software (through patent and copyright law) that may be created during the course of research and development activities.

Whilst the UAE has a diverse economy, the unexpected and substantial drop in global oil prices will inevitably play a significant role in the future success of the region. Despite the generally considerable resources of government, the ambitious project to create a knowledge-driven economy may now, therefore, be given a level of attention that it did not previously demand. The practical adoption, endorsement and implementation of internationally accepted concepts of intellectual property law can continue to be maintained and upheld. The confidence to innovate and the ongoing investment in the education sector in the UAE will be a critical element in the ongoing success of the innovation economy.

Faced with greater financial pressures than ever, institutions operating within the education sector are becoming increasingly commercially focused. With greater emphasis on knowledge transfer and collaborations between institutions, the importance of protecting IP has a major role to play.