Friday, 13 December 2013

Arab-British Chamber of Commerce International Intellectual Property Conference "Combating Transnational Intellectual Property Crime"

Yesterday I was one of the speakers at the Intellectual Property Conference on "Combating Transnational Intellectual Property Crime" which was held at The Langham Hotel in London. The conference was chaired by The Rt. Hon. Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean who had been Minister for the Middle East, Minister for International Trade and Minister for Defence Procurement, and the Prime Minister’s envoy to the Gulf in the last Labour Government in the United Kingdom.  She is now Chair of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.

Lady Symons introduced Dr Muhammed bin Abdul-Kareem Al-Issa and Dr Bassam Al-Talhouni, the Ministers of Justice of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and Lord McNally, Minister of State for Justice in England and Wales.  All three ministers fulminated against counterfeiting and piracy (though none of them actually defined those terms) and outlined some of the measures that they had taken in their respective jurisdictions to suppress those activities. The Minister from Jordan was the most specific and he was able to report a fall in reported instances which Lady Symons noted.  Lord McNally spoke about cyber security. Each of those ministers was presented with a "certificate of appreciation" after their presentations. Lord McNally remarked that he felt like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz  as he and Lady Symons solemnly displayed the certificate for the cameras.

The next session "Strategic Dialogue on Changing Public Perceptions on Counterfeiting and Intellectual Property Theft" was chaired by Miss. Cherie Booth QC of Matrix Chambers and Omnia Strategy LLP who is perhaps better known as Mrs. Tony Blair. Miss Booth hinted at the temptations in a typical household to download pirated music and buy fake handbags. She spoke of the cost of intellectual property infringement globally and the need to change public behaviour in the way that speed cameras had forced motorists to drive more slowly.

Miss Booth introduced two speakers from Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Nasser Bin Ibrahium Al Mohammed, Head of Judicial Inspection and Member of the Supreme Judicial Council, and Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdel Aziz Al Ghossn, President of the National Committee of Lawyers.  Sheikh Al Mohammed gave the most moderate presentation up to that point observing that developing countries can be expected to do only so much in enforcing intellectual property rights and that more should be done by developed countries. He also castigated greedy rights holders as well as greedy infringers. Interestingly he seemed to suggest that an owner of any kind of property who failed to take care of it had only himself to blame and that the need to eat was a partial defence or at least a strong mitigating factor in Saudi law. Even though he is president of a body which presumably includes defendants as well as claimants' lawyers, Sheikh Al Ghossn was implacable in his condemnation of pirates and counterfeiters.  He argued that IP infringement was not just a wrong or even a crime but a sin in Islam.

Perhaps the most interesting speaker of the whole conference was Mr Adil El Maliki who is Director General of OMPIC (Office Marocain de la Propriété Industrielle et Commerciale) the Moroccan intellectual property office. He outlined the comprehensive intellectual property legislation that Morocco had enacted and the treaties to which it had acceded.  He quoted statistics to show that Moroccans were applying for more patents and trade marks which he attributed to those measures.

The last speaker of this session was Mr Robert Bond of Speechly Birham who had been very kind to us when I set up NIPC in 1997 and he was at Hobson Audley. He urged co-operation between rights owners, individuals and businesses in safeguarding intellectual property rights. Public awareness of the importance of intellectual property had to be raised - even in law firms. In that regard he told an alarming story about how an internee was about to post details of a confidential meeting onto Facebook before someone twigged what she was up to and intervened.

There was time for three questions. A barrister who was clearly interested in theology asked Sheikh Al Ghossn exactly what sort of sin was constituted by infringement. Being a Quaker and not a Muslim I must confess that I did not quite understand either the question or answer. I pointed out that IP rights confer monopolies which are not necessarily a good thing. "And your question?" interjected Miss. Booth. "My question is how does Saudi and Moroccan law deal with abuses of such monopolies which can arise either because the rights should never have been granted in the first place or they are used to suppress legitimate competition?" It was clear from the very brief reply that I had not put my question with sufficient clarity.

The last session was "Coordinating Law Enforcement, Government and Business Institutions Actions against Counterfeiters."  Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, summarized comprehensively the measures that had been taken by trading standards officers, the police and the IPO to suppress IP crime. He also announced that he would call a conference on IP enforcement in London shortly,  Before the session I had a brief chat with Lord Younger about St Andrews, where we were both students, and my objection and that of the Intellectual Property Bar Association, Sir Robin Jacob and other leading academics, the IP Federation and just about everybody to criminalizing registered design infringement which I set out in more detail in  my article on the Intellectual Property Bill in my NIPC law blog of the 28 May 2013.

There was a short and in parts amusing presentation from Mr Majed bin Mohammed bin Garoub who is Secretary General of the Union of Lawyers in the GCC Countries about enforcement in those countries. He explained that he acts for a lot of claimants and he is so diligent in pursuing infringers that he has a name for it.

Our chair, Mr Mike Pullen of DLA Piper, developed Lord McNally's observations on cyber security and data protection. Although an expert on competition law with experience of some leading cases he said very little on the subject which was a pity because he would have had a lot to say on the abuse of dominant positions, contracts in restraint of trade and concerted practices.

David Meldrum, a partner of D Young & Co, spoke of the research and development work that was taking place in such places as the free zones of Dubai like Internet City and the Qatar Science and Technology Park.  Inventors and creatives in those places would require a lot of advice on protecting their intellectual assets which is why his firm had opened an office in Dubai.

Eventually it was my turn and to my great horror no slides appeared.  Inwardly panicking I said the first thing that came into my head which was a weak joke that nobody was likely to counterfeit my CHF71 Swatch watch. I think I made that quip because someone had speculated that there were probably a lot of fake Rolexes in the room. For the next 10 minutes I ad libbed and I hope that I said something sensible in  that time. The presentation that I had intended to give is above.

I was more comfortable dealing with questions. Through my experience of running inventors' clubs and IP clinics and having participated briefly in one of the sessions on the implementation of Sir Richard Lambert's review on business and university co-operation I was able to field a question on ownership of graduate students and academics' inventions.  Pertinently Mr Mohammed bin Garoub pointed out that not all academic work leads to patentable inventions.  I also answered a question on remedies against states pointing out that in addition to the dispute settlement procedures under the WTO agreement nationals of countries that were party to bilateral investment treaties might have the option of claiming compensation at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (see "Bilateral Investment Treaties: Claiming Compensation from Foreign Governments under Bilateral Investment Treaties for failing to provide adequate IP Protection"  27 July 2013 NIPC Law and "The UAE's Bilateral Investment Treaties" 28 July 2013).

We then broke for lunch during which time I met some remarkable people including Irina Bragin who supplies lovely handbags made out of carpets and one of the first ladies to be called to the Saudi Arabia bar. Having written recently about the topic in "Saudi Women can now practise Law" 14 Oct 2013 I was delighted to meet her. I told her how good it was to see her country's athletes at the London Olympics and how womankind around the world (and no doubt most men) will rejoice when our Saudi sisters are allowed to drive.

It was a very good meeting and I thank the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce for the invitation to speak. Should anybody wish to discuss this article, my slides or any other topic he or she can contact me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during normal business hours or send me a message through my contact form. He or she can also send me a tweet, write on my wall or contact me through G+, Linkedin or Xing.

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