The UAE is a growing centre of commerce, leisure and travel, where more and more international companies are doing business and/or setting up their regional hubs. As the UAE increasingly looks to diversify away from an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based innovation economy, the awareness and protection of intellectual property rights are becoming of paramount importance.
The UAE is also the host country for the next World Expo event, the Dubai Expo 2020, which at the time of writing is expected to run between October 2020 and April 2021. A central feature of the World Expo taking place in the UAE will be innovation, and so again intellectual property protection will be a key consideration for entities taking part in the event, as well as for innovations coming out of the event.
As a civil law country, the UAE's trademark regulatory landscape shares a number of similarities with China. As such, companies looking to do business in the UAE and wider region can expect to face a number of unique hurdles, including with respect to local language issues and the enforcement of rights without registered protection, to name a few. Foreign entrants may also need to take into account the cultural aspects of doing business in the region.
To help you avoid potential obstacles, here are five things you need to know about trademark protection in the UAE:
Do your homework before seeking local partners
Generally, to do business in the UAE you are likely to require a local partner, whether as a distributor, franchisee, licensee or sponsor of your local business. It is important to consider clearance and registration of your key trademarks before you start talking to any third parties. There have been many instances where potential business partners have themselves registered the trademarks when they realise the brand owner has yet to do so.
Appreciate the cost of not registering
In 2019, the UAE government reduced the prices for trademark protection by over USD $900 per application. Registration costs in the UAE are still some of the most expensive globally, and this is further compounded by being a single class jurisdiction. However, it can be a false economy not to register, as there have been instances where the rightful brand owner has faced criminal proceedings where a third party has misappropriated a trademark and then taken action against the legitimate products.
Register your trademarks in Arabic
The registration of a trademark in English characters does not automatically protect the trademark against the use or registration of the same or similar trademark written in Arabic. Consider registering key trademarks in Arabic to: (a) pre-empt unwanted third party registrations and (b) to protect the use of the Arabic version of the branding. Almost all products and signage carry the English and Arabic branding.
Take religious considerations into account
As an Islamic country, you may find that branding, marketing initiatives or even the products themselves may need to be adapted so as not to offend local cultural values. For example, it is not possible to protect trademarks for alcohol-related products or services, nor pork products; also you may find it is necessary to amend branding that could be considered to be insensitive, rude or relating to religion. Care should be taken to allow you to register, use and market your trademarks without issue.
Understand your enforcement options
Enforcement is possible, but you have to have registrations. With registrations you have the option of the lower cost and more efficient administrative or criminal enforcement options. Without registrations, you will likely be limited to a civil claim through the UAE courts.
As the UAE and wider region continue to be of increasing importance to brand owners, it is important for brand owners to protect their trademarks here – if you don't, a third party may do so! Registration is relatively expensive, but not registering could be the ultimate false economy if you are then blocked from doing business. If the UAE comes onto your radar, it is time to REACT:
If you are interested in learning more about trademark protection in the UAE, please contact Jon Parker for more information.
Authored by Rachel Armstrong