Wednesday, 7 June 2017

How will the Blockade of Qatar affect IP Law in the GCC Countries?

Jane Lambert

Severing diplomatic relations, expelling a state's nationals, closing a land border and airspace are steps that fall only a little way short of war. It is remarkable that those steps have been taken by two of the parties to the Gulf Cooperation Council ("the GCC") against a third since the GCC had achieved a high degree of political and economic integration.

One aspect of that integration is the GCC patent which is actually a unitary patent for the member states of the GCC - something that the member states of the European Union have yet to achieve. GCC patents are issued by the GCC Patent Office which I discussed in Patents: Gulf Cooperation Council on 21 Jan 2011. A subtitled video on YouTube explains how the Office works.  According to its website, the GCC Patent Office has granted 5,721 patents as of today. That may not be a huge number when compared to the output of the Chinese, Japanese, US, Korean or European intellectual property offices, but the GCC Patent Office's business would have been expected to grow as all the GCC countries were developing industries and technologies for when the oil runs out.  As the Office is located in Saudi Arabia, it is hard to see how Qatar can continue to participate in it unless the order expelling Qatari nationals from Saudi Arabia is rescinded.

Other types of IP law will be less affected. Trade mark law had been harmonized in the GCC states by a GCC Trade Marks Law but there was no such thing as a GCC trade mark (see Saba Al Sultani and another GCC Trademark Law Coming Soon Sept 2014 WIPO Magazine).  Similarly, there was no GCC system of design registration and no single GCC copyright.

It is to be hoped that the differences between the Qatari government and the governments of its neighbours can be resolved and that the blockade can be lifted soon, but, even if it is, the actions taken by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates may well have done lasting damage to the GCC. It will not be lost even upon the states that participated in the blockade that the GCC is not a union of states of equal size. Saudi Arabia has a population of 33 million compared to Bahrain's 1.4 million, Kuwait's 4.3 million, Oman's 4.6 million, Qatar's 2.4 million and even the UAE's 5.8 million. The pressure that has been exerted upon Qatar on this occasion could easily be brought to bear on any of the other states in a future dispute.

Consequently, any business exporting to, importing from, investing, or seeking investment in any of the GCC states would be wise to plan for a future that may not include the GCC in its current form. The IP issues that would arise in such a future would be very similar to those that have sprung up in the UK as a result of Brexit. Exporters to, and investors in, any of the GCC states should ensure that their brands, technology and other intellectual assets are protected by national as well as GCC law. Their contracts should take account of the possibility of further blockades and insert effective force majeure provisions. Wherever possible contracts should be construed and enforced in accordance with English law. Where that is not possible, the laws of the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Dubai International Financial Centre or the Qatar Financial Centre which are modelled on English law and enforced by English speaking, common law courts should be considered.

Should any reader wish to discuss this article or IP law in the Gulf in general he or she should call me during British office hours on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.