Why does IP matter to an SME?

Making the most of your intellectual property

What are the benefits of ‘intellectual property’, and why might you need to protect it within your SME?

Intellectual property (IP) is used to protect ideas or businesses, by granting the owners certain exclusive rights to various intangible assets, such as brands, designs, songs or intellectual creation.

This is somewhat different from a patent for a product. (Perhaps surprisingly, not many patents are registered within the UAE. This is mainly because most products are imported, and are therefore governed by predominantly US or European registration. Patent registration is also a costly and time-consuming process here, particularly as the examination for patentability is outsourced. Moreover litigation for infringement is equally expensive and arduous.)

However if you want to trademark your name, protect your IP, or copyright something such as software, then you may well need to take action. Protecting your business or idea is fundamental if you want to successfully develop your creation. It effectively creates your own trade secret, which will protect the process, construction and formulation of your offering. It can be used to:

  1. Protect your business from competitors.
  2. Protect the originality of your business name and website.
  3. Protect documents, such as brochures, from copyright.
  4. Ensure investors sign a confidentiality agreement.

In addition, the process of applying for IP can also help you to:

  1. Find out whether your creation already exists.
  2. Identify useful technologies that could help you develop your idea.

IP in the UAE: know the basics
– UAE law recognizes a broad range of intellectual property rights. These are similar to those in the UK, US and Europe. The UAE is also a member of several worldwide conventions on IP (for example the Madrid Convention, WTO, TRIPS and Patent Co-operation Treaty 1970), which means many international rights are recognized.
– The federal Ministry of Economy registers IP.
– Patents are protected under the UAE’s Industrial Property Law. There are two schemes: the Patent Co-operation Treaty for domestic patents, and the GCC Patent system for those within the GCC region.
– Copyright, for example for software, is governed by Federal Law No.7 of 2002. This broadly follows international norms, though there are some differences (for example, assigning future copyright). It helps to have more than one author assigned to a copyright, to limit the risk of the copyright being assigned to them in the future. It’s also worth knowing that fines for infringements aren’t particularly large, as they’re based on criminal law principles.
– Federal Law No.37 of 1992 protects both trademarks and trade names. Trademarks and the application process can be slow and expensive – also, the system isn’t computerized, so searching is difficult. Also, note that business names are dealt with locally by each Emirate, giving multi-layered protection and enforcement. (See the other article in this issue: Naming your SME).


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