Join our Dubai based IP team as they recap the recent developments in IP in the MENA region during 2020, and look forward to 2021.

Jon Parker is joined by Rachel Armstrong, to wish you Season's Greetings and an IP New Year.


Jon Parker: Happy Holidays. My name is Jon Parker. I am a partner in Gowling WLG Dubai office in the IP team and what we thought we would run through at the end of this interesting year is a look back over the last 12 months to see IP development in the UAE and the wider region but to also look forward to an IP New Year in 2021 and see what we may have going forward, what you may be able to expect and I will introduce my colleague.

Rachel Armstrong: I am Rachel Armstrong. I am also in the Gowling IP team based here in Dubai in the UAE and I will be crystal ball glazing as to what we think is coming up and what we have got to look forward to in 2021 and some of the developments we see on the horizon.

Jon: So looking back to 2020, it has been an interesting year for all of us and from Gowling WLG in the UAE we hope you have all stayed safe and well over the last 12 months and will do going forwards. One of the interesting things we saw quite early on in the lockdown was significant fee reductions to IP matters so many of you will be aware that the region is generally one of the most expensive for trademark protection, in particular around the world. At the end of March at the very outset of lockdown here, the Ministry of Economy announced over 1,000 fee reductions, one of which was a 30% reduction in official fees for UAE trademark fines which reduced those fees by $600 which just shows you how expensive they were, but it was a welcome reduction at a welcome time for brand owners, and the profession here in the UAE.

The other thing we have seen a large uptake in as has happened in other countries around the world is of course e-commerce, so many brands moving online perhaps for the first time and existing online players expanding their offering. This of course brings with it certain IP challenges including perhaps a greater emphasis for brand owners to monitor online enforcement and for potentially infringements of their rights and I think with that we have seen some developments through Customs which probably ties into ecommerce in that one of the developments from Customs over the last year also has been an increase in Customs seizures of counterfeits at airports. There is something like a third of all seizures over the last year have been at airports and what we suspect this means or shows is counterfeiters are sending smaller packages to direct consumers who are buying through ecommerce platforms than perhaps was happening in the past so counterfeiters are moving away from traditional ship of counterfeits to sending smaller packages through air freight and airmail and couriers etc.

Some of the developments over the last year, Saudi Arabia has gone through some significant changes. We have seen the establishment of SAIP and its greater role within intellectual property in the Kingdom, so SAIP in Saudi Arabia Intellectual Property Authority. We have also seen the first non-traditional mark as in a sound mark issued in Saudi so it was for a musical mark which was protected through musical notation but also they are currently looking at other forms of non-traditional mark an area where previously you met with quite forthright objections let's say refusals to such applications. The other big news we have had from the UAE and some other countries in the region is of course the signing of the Abraham Accord so this is the normalisation of relationships with Israel and the UAE. This was signed earlier this year and came about in August. At the same time Bahrain also normalised its relations with Israel and already as a firm and as a profession we are seeing Israeli companies looking to protect their interests here and also companies from here going to Israel to protect their IP rights. Just last week, Morocco also announced its normalisation with Israel and so again it is a real area of change and development here and just in the last couple of weeks, the very first patent file by an Israeli entity was lodged here in UAE for believe it or not, a COVID related tech application for helping to trace COVID over recent times. So it has been a time of great change and great developments and Rachel, do you think this will continue for the year ahead?

Rachel: I am really pleased to see that the end of 2020 which I am sure we will all agree has been a challenging year. It has been more positive I think certainly in the region we have seen some positive developments certainly. In one of the things particular from a trademark perspective we are really excited about is the discussions around Saudi Arabia and potentially the UAE acceding to Madrid. That would be fantastic for both international brand owners looking to protect their rights in this region but also for local companies looking to expand its protection globally so I think that is a potential development we may see in 2021 and if we do not see the accession in 2021 I think at least we will get a lot further down the road which I think is a really, really positive development.

One of the other things we have seen which I think has had a real impact is the changes in the ownerships structure requirements both a recent development in the UAE which our corporate colleagues have covered off some articles that I will not go into detail here but certainly the change in the ownership requirements to potentially 100% ownership, structures in the UAE for foreign companies will I am sure have a positive impact on IP and the IP commercialisation of those IP rights and in 2021 and going forwards so I think that will be a really positive area and something we will see growth in. I think from the tech perspective we have seen a development here with the DIFC, the International Financial Centre here in Dubai is issuing its Data Protection Law and certainly there is conversations and discussions around a federal law coming into place which is likely to be similar to the GDPR or similar type framework. Again whether that happens in 2021 or a couple of years' time I think it will be really interesting to see how that develops and really as John said I think the Abraham Accord and the impact that is going to have on Israeli companies doing business in this region and similarly those companies here moving into Israel particularly in the tech space to leverage some of their expertise. I think that would be a real change and something we are looking forward to and I think particularly for Dubai would be a discussion about 2021 unless we touched on Expo and unfortunate for all of us to see Expo being delayed with all the efforts that have gone into it and the planning for Expo 2020 but I think everyone agrees it was certainly the right decision and we are really looking forward to hopefully the launch of Expo 2020 in 2021 later next year. So I think that is certainly something we are all looking forward to and would be great to see the developments in the region to come out of that exhibition as well.

Jon: Thank you. I think it has been an interesting year. I think there are huge opportunities and huge developments yet to come so I think for everyone keep an eye on developments for this region. We will update you as and when things arise also but in the meantime Happy Holidays to one and all from us both and IP New Year.

Rachel: IP New Year.