United Arab Emirates: New Plant Varieties Law in the United Arab Emirates

Last Updated: 27 July 2010
Article by Rasha Al Ardah

In a new development to the Intellectual Property system in the United Arab Emirates, a new federal law in respect of the protection of plant varieties and plant breeders' rights has recently been issued. Law No. (17) of 2009 entered into force on January 14th, 2010.

The protection of plant varieties and plant breeders' rights is one of the UAE's obligations under different international treaties. The UAE is a member of the World Trade Organization, and thus required to comply with or give effect to agreements including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). The UAE is also a member to some other international treaties relevant to the rights of plant breeders, namely, The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992 and The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) 2001.

According to Article 27 (3/b) of TRIPS, member states must provide protection for plant varieties through the patent system, a sui generis system, or a combination of both. The new law suggests a sui generis system for plant breeders' rights.

According to the new law, a breeder can apply for the grant of protection for a plant variety. A breeder is defined as any person who bred, discovered or developed a new plant variety, or the legal successor of such person.

In order to qualify for protection under the new law, a plant variety must be new, distinct, uniform and stable. In addition, a plant variety should not be harmful to health or environment and should not be contrary to the Islamic Sharia'h or any applicable law in the UAE.

A plant variety is new if it has not been commercialised for more than one year in the UAE or four years outside the UAE. A plant variety is distinct if it differs from all other known plant varieties at the date of the application. A plant variety is uniform if the plant characteristics are consistent from plant to plant within the variety. A plant variety is stable if the plant characteristics remain the same from generation to generation, or after a cycle of reproduction.

The breeder must give the variety an acceptable "denomination," which becomes its generic name and must be used by anyone who sells, markets or uses the variety.

An application for grant of protection should be submitted to the Registrar at Ministry of Environment and Water. The application will go through an examination procedure in order to establish that the plant variety is new, distinct, uniform and stable, in addition to the examination of the denomination. The examination is made under the supervision of the Registrar in one of the following methods: (i) to rely on growth and germination examinations, and any other essential exams or tests, made by a technical authority inside or outside the country, if such tests or exams are carried out in environmental conditions consistent with the environmental conditions in the country; or (ii) the Registrar or any other authority elected by the Registrar may carry out the tests and exams at the breeder's expense. If the application satisfies the examination requirements, the Registrar shall grant the plant breeders' right and publish it in the Official Gazette.

According to the new law the grantee should have the right to prevent others from carrying out any of the following activities without prior consent: acts of production, reproduction and propagation; conditioning for the purpose of propagation; offering for sale, selling or any other marketing activities; exportation; importation or stocking of any of the aforementioned purposes.

However, the law provides exceptions from the breeders' rights that are related to scientific experiments, activities done for the purpose of deriving new varieties and the use by farmers in their own holdings for the purpose of the propagation of the harvest they gained through growing the plant variety for non commercial use.

Moreover, the new law provides for compulsory licenses to exploit the protected plant variety without the consent of the plant breeder for public interest and without prejudice to the plant breeder right of compensation. The law provides for another type of licensing which is the exceptional license that could be granted in exceptional emergency cases.

The protection duration stipulated by the law is 20 years for crops and 25 years for vines and trees. The protection period starts from the grant decision date.

The Plant Varieties law provides penalties for the infringement of the rights of the plant breeder that consists of either imprisonment for a minimum of two months and a fine of not less than AED 10,000 and not more than AED 250,000. The fine is in addition to confiscation and destruction of the material related to the infringement.

It is worth mentioning that although the UAE is not a member of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the new law has been drafted to be consistent with the UPOV.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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