On 20 April 2021, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has released its annual report on intellectual property. This report contains feedback from more than 100 United States companies on their concerns relating to intellectual property (IP) rights protection and enforcement issues around the world.
The report states that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been removed from the watch list this year due to the progress made by the government to tackle underlying intellectual property enforcement issues.
Enforcement System - Highlights
The UAE has the most developed intellectual property enforcement system in the region and is constantly working to strengthen and reinforce adequate and effective protection for IP rights. Authorities have conducted continuous awareness programs and have implemented new technologies assisting in the fight against violations of intellectual property rights.
These measures have greatly enhanced enforcement through administrative authorities at the Emirates level, which have now become the most effective route for anti-counterfeiting.
The above achievement is part of the UAE Vision 2021 for economic competitiveness and innovation.
What Has Been Recently Improved?
The cooperation between several governmental entities to combat anti-counterfeiting activities has contributed to this success. The Ministry of Health and Prevention had been very active over the last year in resolving IP concerns, especially in relation to pharmaceutical products.
Earlier this April, Rouse published a review of Customs Procedures in the Middle East which highlighted Dubai Customs' increased engagement in IP enforcement. Dubai Customs has implemented community awareness campaigns and deployed new technologies and workshops for customs officers in collaboration with brand owners and other authorities to better detect counterfeit products. Furthermore, the Federal Customs have started publishing annual Intellectual property enforcement statistics, which has increased transparency. The 2019 report indicated that the number of seizures has increased to 67 compared to 63 seizures in 2018. The number of seizures made through shipments in 2019 has also increased compared to 2018. Counterfeit handbags and wallets were 29.85% while counterfeit mobiles phones and accessories took up 11.94% of the total of the seized goods.
It should be also noted that the Ajman Department of Economic Development (ADED) has been very active in seizing counterfeit products and their efforts have contributed greatly to reducing the availability of counterfeits in the Ajman China Mall, a well-known destination for counterfeits.
The ADED has also set up an online filing system paving the way towards replacing all manual procedures. After the system was launched, there was a notable rise in the complaints received.
In 2020, the ADED conducted 6,044 inspection visits to shops and markets. These visits have also raised the awareness of 565 establishments and alerted 384 establishments. The ADED has also recorded 167 violations and closed 23 establishments1.
The Dubai Police has also played an important role in the fight against counterfeit products. The Department of Anti-Economic Crimes within the Dubai Police arrested 2,430 suspects and recorded 2,145 economic criminal cases over the past five years. The department has also made confiscations with an estimated value exceeding Dh8.966 billion.2
Online Enforcement – Impact of COVID-19
Online retail, particularly online sales of counterfeit products, has increased during the Covid 19 pandemic. This increase has prompted enforcement authorities in the UAE to reinforce and develop their procedures along with pre-existing online systems with the aim to cope with the new "situation".
All manual procedures are now shifted to online procedures, from filing trade mark applications to complaints in relation to counterfeit goods. The Civil Courts have also established online portals to process court operations and also introduced a virtual hearing system.
Despite that, there are no clear procedures for online enforcement. Administrative authorities have become more proactive in reporting to brand owners and also in taking down accounts dealing with counterfeit products. In some cases, particularly in relation to non-registered rights, administrative authorities require a Court Order in order to take action.
Despite the pandemic restrictions, enforcement authorities have continued to carry out raids and seizures of counterfeit products.
While UAE enforcement authorities are active in seizing and destroying counterfeit goods, significant challenges remain in several areas:
- Enforcement within Free Trade Zones: Police and Customs authorities do not regularly investigate and take enforcement actions in Free Trade Zones against counterfeit goods. Free Trade Zone authorities do not also have a clear mechanism in place for enforcement against counterfeit products. This can continue to allow the transhipment of counterfeit goods through Dubai.
- Proactive enforcement: Enforcement authorities generally do not take action against infringements of IP rights without complaints from rights holders.
- Costs: Most enforcement authorities do not provide storage facilities for confiscated goods. They also do not have destruction facilities. In addition to legal fees brand owners will also have to bear transport fees, storage fees, and destruction fees which could become exorbitant if the proceedings stretched for one or two years.
- Coordination: Coordination between enforcement authorities at the inter-Emirate level is still challenging to manage. Such collaboration is a prerequisite to dealing with issues such as seizing counterfeit goods owned by one party but located in different Emirates.
- Execution of judgements: The execution procedures of final judgements are challenging and take time especially if the Defendant is not willing to comply with the court judgement.
The issues outlined above increase enforcement timelines and costs but do not prevent the enforcement of IP rights. The UAE has long recognised the importance of IP protection and its contribution to the economic and cultural developments in the country, and collaborations with brand owners is one of the keys to its success. While enforcement is still challenging in some areas, the UAE is continuously working to enhance its enforcement systems.
1. Government of Ajman - Department of Economic Development - https://www.ajmanded.ae/en/25may2021.aspx
Police - https://www.dubaipolice.gov.ae/wps/portal/home/mediacenter/news/newsdetails/n73/!ut/p/z1/
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