Having historically had limited laws protecting intellectual property ("IP") rights, Qatar has made progress towards enacting legislation and implementing practices to enable rights holders to protect their IP. New laws with respect to trademarks, copyright, registered designs and patents have been enacted since 2002 and Qatar has acceded to various international treaties regarding IP law. As Qatar seeks to move away from its reliance on oil and gas and diversify as part of its National Vision 2030, further reforms in IP will move it towards a knowledge-based economy.

The Qatari Patent Law (No. 30 of 2006) ("Patent Law") was enacted in 2006 which envisioned a patent office being set up within the Ministry of Economy pursuant to Implementing Regulations. However, to date no Implementing Regulations have been issued and the patent office is not yet functional. Currently, it is not possible to file a patent application in Qatar, although there are reportedly changes occurring which will allow for applications in the near future. This article deals with the law regarding patents in Qatar with regard to the Patent Law.

Qatar is a signatory to several conventions and treaties that govern IP, including the World Trade Organization ("WTO"). The WTO is the umbrella to which most of the other conventions and treaties fall under, such as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

Patent applicants have historically obtained protection in Qatar by filing for patents with the Gulf Cooperation Council ("GCC") Patent Office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The GCC Patent Law operates on the premise that the patents granted by the GCC Patent Office apply to all GCC states with the responsibility of enforcement being with the individual states.

Qatar ratified the GCC Patent Law and Regulations in 1996 giving force of law in Qatar to the system operated by the GCC Patent Office. The legislation does not deal with the enforcement of GCC patents, therefore, there is no clear regime for enforcing patents granted by the GCC Patent Office within Qatar.

Qatar recently acceded to the Patent Convention Treaty ("PCT"), with effect from 3 August 2011. Rights owners with an interest in Qatar may look forward to making use of the international system offered by the PCT in order to obtain protection in Qatar, although it has not given rise to any immediate change. Currently the only option for those seeking to secure patent protection in Qatar remains the process through the GCC Patents Office.  

A Patent is defined in the Patent Law as "the certificate granted by the [Patent] Office to the patent owner in order for his/her invention to enjoy legal protection in line with the provisions of this law and its executive bylaws". The government will protect the patent for twenty years, giving the owner the exclusive rights. This will mean that no third-party can exploit the invention without the authorisation of the owner.

A patent is given to a product or a process, but first, it must meet several conditions:

  1. Novelty
  2. Inventive step
  3. Industrial application

Firstly is the novelty of the product or process. The Patent Law is silent on whether it implements the absolute or relative novelty requirement. Absolute novelty means that the product or process should not be part of "known knowledge". This means that it should not have been disclosed to the public in any form, whether through written or oral disclosure or by use or by any other means prior to the date of filing of the patent application, whether in Qatar or abroad.

In some countries an application could still be validly filed which will be considered novel despite the publication, provided that the filing is made during the grace period following the publication. This is known as relative novelty. A grace period is not expressly mentioned in the Patent Law, but is found in the GCC Patent Law. It gives a grace period of 6 months to the owner of the invention who has publically disclosed his/her invention prior to the filing date of the patent application.

Secondly, an inventive step means that the product or process must have a significant addition to the state of the art. The standard used is that the inventive step would not be obvious to a person with the ordinary skill in the art.

The third condition, industrial application, means a patent can only be granted for an invention which is susceptible to industrial application. In other words, it should not be theoretical, but should be able to be carried out in practice. Consequently, the Patent Law will not grant patents to scientific theories or mathematical methods.

Under the Patent Law, there are various materials that do not receive a patent due to their subject-matter. As previously mentioned, patents will not be granted to scientific theories or mathematical methods, other examples include surgical or therapeutic methods. A list of non-patentable subject-matter is listed in Article (4.2) of the Patent Law. Software programs are not protected under Patent Law but are protected under Copyright Law.  

There are conditions that need to be taken into consideration when filing for a patent application. Foremost, it should not contradict Shariah Law or public policy. The Patent Law also states that the subject-matter must not contradict public morality, public order or national security. The Patent Law does not define what is meant by public order, but the GCC Patent Law, Article (4) includes "the protection of human or animal or plantation life and health, or to avoid serious damage to the environment" as part of the public order. Examples would include a machine that is invented for forging money or a new process used to brew beer.

The Patent Law recognises the Compulsory Licensing principle allowing the government to give a third party the right to exploit inventions or processes that are protected by patents, without the consent of the inventor. However, there are several conditions that must be met. First of all, an interested third party may only apply for compulsory licensing after three years of the patent granting date. The third party may only apply under three conditions:

  1. the owner of the patent has not been seriously or effectively exploiting the patent in the space of three years since the granting of the patent;
  2. the owner has completely stopped exploiting the patent for two consecutive years without informing the Patent Office with legitimate reasons; and
  3. the owner refuses to grant contractual licensing to third parties thus impairing the development of Qatar economically as well as commercially.

Only in the event of one of these conditions mentioned above, can an interested third party apply for a compulsory licensing. In all cases, if the owner of the patent provides legitimate reasons (importing a product is not considered a legitimate reason), then the application by the third party will be denied. The compulsory licensing is only granted from the appropriate minister. Under Article 7 of the Patent Law the owner of the patent has the right to appeal against the decision of granting the compulsory license, to the Committee. Furthermore, the third party must be capable of carrying out the necessary requirements that have led to the initial request for the compulsory licensing. If the original reasons that qualified the granting of the compulsory licensing ceased to exist then the compulsory licensing will be terminated.

In the last decade, Qatar has made significant progress in enhancing its intellectual property laws. Although the only way to apply for a patent right in Qatar at the moment is through the GGC Patent Office, it is hoped that Qatar's accession to the PCT will result in a clear regime for securing and enforcing patent rights until the Patent Office in Qatar is fully functional.

All Qatari Laws (save for those issued by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) to regulate its own business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations, therefore for the purposes of drafting this article we have used our own translation and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari regulation and current market practice.

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.