Dubai: Data, content, and intellectual property cannot be trifled with in the UAE. The laws of the land and the courts are enforcing what’s right for the rightful owners. Whether that’s in the physical world or the digital domain.
Such violations are ending. Period.
So, no more ‘inspired’ rip-offs or ‘tweaks’ on others’ intellectual property (IP) rights. The UAE now has one of the toughest data and copyright rules in the world, whether that’s protecting the rights of international brands available here or enforcing the ownership of local brands.
What is the law?
The UAE issued a new Federal Law No. 38 of 2021 concerning Copyright & Neighbouring Rights (New Copyright Law) that replaced the old Federal Law No. 7 of 2002 (Old Copyright Law), and came into force in January. The new law covers the ambiguities that may arise given the changing data landscape and categories of IP. From photographs, architectural designs, and virtual art to 'work for hire' and the concept of 'fair use', the new law covers intrinsic details that can be applied across industries.
While the updated laws to this effect were brought out earlier this year, data protection was added as another facet of the wider regulations. “Regarding trademarks, preliminary measures against infringements were introduced; clearer guidelines for the protection of well-known trademarks included; and the right to apply for the cancellation of trademarks based on prior use, as well as bad faith, codified,” said Yasir Masood, Trademark Lawyer at Dennemeyer & Associates in Dubai.
These laws contain some significant changes and have codified existing case laws for the first time.
According to legal sources, the laws on copyright or data protection should not be seen in isolation. The UAE authorities have through the recent past been issuing a steady flow of laws that govern conduct on digital and social media channels. “There’s been a conscious effort by the UAE to have ‘best-in-class regulations on individuals’ and businesses’ use of online media,” said a digital media consultant.
“It is against this backdrop that the copyright and data protection side of things have been given more teeth.”
Preliminary measures against infringements were introduced, clearer guidelines for the protection of well-known trademarks included, and the right to apply for the cancellation of trademarks based on prior use as well as bad faith codified.
Fines for infringements were significantly increased.
On patents, a 12-month grace period now applies for pre-filing publications in the UAE.
Dubai court passes landmark judgement
This is where a landmark judgement passed by a Dubai court assumes significance. BNC Networks is a platform that offers subscribers access to curated data/content on construction tenders and project activities. The company found that parts of this content were showing up on a third-party platform, and it was determined that this could only have happened by a subscriber passing on those details.
BNC Networks duly approached the local court to intervene. A top official at the company said that this wasn’t merely a case of copy-pasting an isolated piece of information.
“A data breach of this nature, if not stopped could have resulted in tens of millions of dirhams in losses, the collapse of the business, and the loss of over 100 jobs,” said Avin Gidwani. “The data we offer has been collected over 18 years of research. In addition to the cost of researchers, millions of dirhams have been invested in developing software and systems to support our research processes.
The term ‘copyright violation’ may seem minor, but we are a data business and in effect, this violation was the theft and resale of a multi-million dirham business intelligence database, at a fraction of its true value.
“The verdict was passed by the Dubai Court of First Instance and the date for appeal has passed without an appeal by the defendants. We are now in the execution phase. They can’t re-appeal.”
Old rules, new rules
While the verdict found the other portal to have violated BNC Network’s rights, there are other aspects of the case that make it quite interesting.
The initial filing of the claim was done last year after BNC confirmed that data violations were indeed happening and where it was turning up. “The BNC case was filed during the existence of the old law on copyright, and also heard its decision under the scope of the old law,” said Raka Roy, Partner at Galadari Advocates and Legal Consultants, which represented BNC.
“However, during the pendency of the case, the new (UAE law) was issued.” This came into effect from January 2 this year, and incidentally, just days after the UAE formally signed up for the Madrid Protocol, which deals with the international registration of trademarks.
Given the expansion the new law has anchored, UAE courts would expect to hear many more cases in the future. At the moment, since the law has very recently been introduced, there aren’t large figures of cases filed.
That may be, but what the law does provide in the interim is a sense of safeguarding of rights for the UAE’s growing base of digital-only businesses. “Data protection and online IP protection in the online domain are still new fields, and the UAE has not waited to come up with its own versions of what constitutes right and wrong,” said a lawyer. “This is as much about ensuring fair practice as offering a secure environment for digital businesses on their IPs.”
Extend the IP scope
If symbols and names were what brands were focussed on protecting in the physical world, it now extends to much more in the virtual. This is why the UAE laws in their revised version expand the scope of IP protection to 3D holograms – and even colors and smells.
“The new UAE trademark law has added some non-traditional forms of trademarks to its definition of what can be protected, such as 3D trademarks, colors and smells,” said Masood. “As with the definition in the old law, the mentioned trademark types are not exhaustive, but rather a list of examples. This leaves room for other types not included by adding that the law also covers ‘any other mark’ used to distinguish goods or services.
“At most, this change in the new law can therefore function as confirmation that the listed non-traditional trademarks can indeed be registered in the UAE. This is in line with the laws of major jurisdictions worldwide and part of a greater harmonization of IP laws globally.”
For businesses operating in the UAE, it’s the only detail that matters. Their proprietary rights will be taken care of.