United Arab Emirates
Protecting Intellectual Property

Provides advice on IPR protection, including information on the registration of patents and trademarks.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

With respect to intellectual property rights (IPR), the UAE was placed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) 2018 Special 301 Report as a Watch List country for failing provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of IPR – and again in 2019[1].  Effective implementation of the IP-related laws and regulations has been a growing concern for years, especially in light of long standing concerns about combating the sale and transshipment of counterfeit goods and the establishment of collective management organizations, as well as recent policy changes that may weaken IP protection for pharmaceutical products. 

IPR Enforcement:  Enforcement of IPR takes place generally at the emirate-level.  However, more effective coordinated cooperation is required with the different emirates and customs to control the transshipment of counterfeit goods.  In Dubai, for example, the Dubai Police, Dubai Customs, and the Dubai Department of Economic Development 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 only applies to in market and non-free trade zone areas.  Each emirate works with individual stakeholders regarding counterfeits of its brands, and the government publicly reports only the largest seizures of counterfeit goods. A 2014 law combating commercial fraud strengthened the UAE’s legal framework for IPR protection and enforcement, but inconsistent implementation of the law has heightened concerns about whether or not an adequate distinction has been made between defective or substandard goods (which may be returned to their point of origin) and counterfeit goods (which must be destroyed to prevent resale). 

While some UAE enforcement authorities seize and destroy counterfeit goods, significant copyright piracy and trademark infringement concerns remain.  The 2017 Notorious Markets List included two physical marketplaces in the UAE, Dragon Mart in Dubai and Ajman China Mall, for hosting over 5,000 stores selling a broad range of counterfeit goods, including appliances, communication and acoustic equipment, building materials, machinery, footwear, and designer handbags.  In addition to serving purchasers in the UAE, these marketplaces also operate as gateways to distribute counterfeit goods to other markets in the region, North Africa, and Europe.  Additionally, the lack of IP enforcement actions within FTZs is a concern.  For instance, rather than seizing and destroying counterfeit goods in FTZs, UAE officials reportedly allow the re-export and transshipment of such products, despite having the authority for the destruction of counterfeit goods.  U.S. rights holders also continue to raise concerns over the lack of IP prosecutions; a lack of permanent staff solely dedicated to counterfeit enforcement; a lack of enforcement action without specific, written complaints from rights holders; and a lack of transparency and available information related to raids and seizures of pirated and counterfeit goods. 

Copyright:  Copyrights are protected under Federal Law.  The UAE is also a member of several WIPO administered Treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty[1].  The UAE has generally been responsive when encountering pirated physical CDs, DVDs, and software.  However, the UAE also has yet to grant the necessary operating licenses to establish collecting management organizations to allow copyright licensing and royalty payments, reflecting a longstanding concern from U.S. industry. 

Trademark:  For trademarks, the high trademark official filing fees in UAE, which replicate GCC-wide regulations and are amongst the highest in the world, are considered cost-prohibitive to protecting trademarks in the UAE. 

Pharmaceutical Products:  Regarding pharmaceutical products, in April 2017, UAE officials allowed domestic manufacture of generic versions of pharmaceutical products still under patent protection in the United States.  The UAE claimed that measures providing exclusive marketing rights for pharmaceutical products in the UAE based on country of origin patent protection – the Decree 404 system – were no longer valid.  The Decree 404 system provides important IP protection for innovative products that is not available through other mechanisms in the UAE’s intellectual property and regulatory systems.  It is also unclear whether the UAE intends to continue to recognize patents granted by the regional GCC Patent Office which is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  These actions demonstrate a lack of predictability and transparency in the patent system that has created a sense of instability and confusion amongst stakeholders, including [or especially] in the innovative pharmaceutical industry.

[1] USTR Special 301 Report (2018), pgs. 70-71 available at https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Reports/2018%20Special%20301.pdf