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IP laws: Companies call for stricter enforcement

Counterfeit products flooding market continue to be a major problem for retailers

Gulf News

Dubai: Multinationals and major retailers operating in the UAE are calling for a single federal authority to govern intellectual property rights and impose stricter punishment on violators.

“As a brand owner we deal with many entities like Dubai Customs and the Department of Economic Development (DED) but it would be better for us to deal with one entity,” said Omar Shteiwi, head of legal compliance and corporate governance at Nestle.

“With the UAE’s fast economic growth, there should be a federal authority to handle intellectual property and impose deterrent measures on violators.”

Intellectual property laws are not implemented as strictly as they could be as violators are usually fined rather than imprisoned, he said, adding that fines are insufficient to deter violators.

Counterfeit products flooding the market continue to be a major problem for retailers, they said on the sidelines of the Power Brands exhibition at the Dubai World Conference for Consumer Rights yesterday.

The industry of fast-moving consumer goods (FCMG) is especially vulnerable to the problem of fake goods, said Isam Badwailan, brand protection manager in Mena for Unilever.

About 90 per cent of the global brand’s home care and personal care products are faked and sold in the market, he said.

Asked about the financial impact of counterfeit products on the company’s sales and revenue, he said the numbers are unavailable.

“In the Gulf market in general we are controlling this issue… we are working with Dubai Customs and DED,” he said.

Walking the line between respecting consumer rights and being profitable as a business is a fine one and a tough balancing act, retailers said.

The issue of retailers collecting and using customer data responsibly is one example of this.

“We take the details of customers and we are obliged to communicate with them if there is a product recall. But what about exploitation of data? Do you keep it for life? Do you sell it? There is very little regulation here,” said Jason Willicombe, senior division manager of customer relations management at Chalhoub Group Retail.

The company is now working on evolving its data policy based on European standards until the UAE adopts an approach closer to international best standards, he said.

The consumer protection conference runs until April 3. The Power Brands exhibition featured about 30 leading companies to talk with traders and investors about their brand promotion policies. In order to attract more brands and ensure diversity in Power Brands exhibition, DED is allowing participants to run three-week long promotions of their products in outlets across the emirate during the event.