In 2018, the UAE was placed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report Watch List for failing to provide adequate and effective protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). After making important improvements to its IPR enforcement regime, the UAE was removed from the Special 301 Report in April 2021. The UAE continued to enhance their IPR regime in 2021 by passing three pieces of legislation to update their patent, trademark, copyright, industrial design, and trade secret protections and enforcement mechanisms. In December 2021 the UAE joined the Madrid Protocol, a seminal international trademark treaty that lowers burdens for obtaining trademark rights in multiple countries.
IPR enforcement generally takes place at the emirate level (i.e., state level). However, a more coordinated approach would be helpful between emirates and customs authorities to control the transshipment of counterfeit goods, especially in the free trade zones in the UAE. In Dubai, for example, the Dubai Police, Dubai Customs, and the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED) share the power to search for and seize counterfeit products. Dubai Customs has authority to do so at the emirate’s borders and in free trade zones, while Dubai Police and DED authority applies only to in-market and non-free trade zone areas. Each emirate works with individual stakeholders regarding counterfeits of its brands.
Copyrights are protected under UAE Federal Law. The UAE is also a member of several treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), including the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. In March 2022, the UAE launched the first collective management organization (CMO) in the Gulf region to allow copyright licensing and collecting royalty payments for literary rights but has yet to license a CMO for musical rights, reflecting a longstanding concern from U.S. stakeholders.
Before January 2021, rights holders could obtain patent protection in the UAE by filing a national UAE patent application with the UAE patent office, through the Patent Cooperation Treaty system, or by filing a patent application with the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Patent Office in Riyadh. In early January 2021, however, the GCC Patent Office stopped accepting new patent applications as the regional system undergoes legislative reform. With respect to pharmaceutical products, the UAE resolved long-standing industry concerns by passing Decree 321 in September 2020. Decree 321 provides effective protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.
In any foreign market, companies should consider several general principles for effective protection of their intellectual property. For background, link to our article on Protecting Intellectual Property and Stopfakes.gov for more resources.
For additional information about IPR matters in the Middle East and North Africa specifically, please contact the regional Intellectual Property Attaché, Aisha Salem-Howey, at Aisha.Salem-Howey@trade.gov or the regional Intellectual Property Specialist, Rasha Abdel Magid, at Rasha.AbdelMagid@trade.gov. For information on IP Attachés in other markets, please visit https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/ip-attache-program.
To access UAE’s ICS, which includes information on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, visit the U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statement website.