Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual property is divided into two categories:
Industrial Property includes patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications.
Copyright covers literary works (such as novels, poems and plays), films, music, artistic works (e.g., drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures) and architectural design. Rights related to copyright include those of performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings, and broadcasters in their radio and television programs.
Intellectual property rights are like any other property right. They allow creators, or owners, of patents, trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment in a creation. These rights are outlined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for the right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from authorship of scientific, literary or artistic productions.
The importance of intellectual property was first recognized in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). Both treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
There are several compelling reasons. First, the progress and well-being of humanity rest on its capacity to create and invent new works in the areas of technology and culture. Second, the legal protection of new creations encourages the commitment of additional resources for further innovation. Third, the promotion and protection of intellectual property spurs economic growth, creates new jobs and industries, and enhances the quality and enjoyment of life.
An efficient and equitable intellectual property system can help all countries to realize intellectual property’s potential as a catalyst for economic development and social and cultural well-being. The intellectual property system helps strike a balance between the interests of innovators and the public interest, providing an environment in which creativity and invention can flourish, for the benefit of all.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention – a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem.
A patent provides patent owners with protection for their inventions. Protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.
Patents provide incentives to individuals by recognizing their creativity and offering the possibility of material reward for their marketable inventions. These incentives encourage innovation, which in turn enhances the quality of human life.
Patent protection means an invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the patent owner’s consent. Patent rights are usually enforced in courts that, in most systems, hold the authority to stop patent infringement. Conversely, a court can also declare a patent invalid upon a successful challenge by a third party.
A patent owner has the right to decide who may – or may not – use the patented invention for the period during which it is protected. Patent owners may give permission to, or license, other parties to use their inventions on mutually agreed terms. Owners may also sell their invention rights to someone else, who then becomes the new owner of the patent. Once a patent expires, protection ends and the invention enters the public domain. This is also known as becoming off patent, meaning the owner no longer holds exclusive rights to the invention, and it becomes available for commercial exploitation by others.
Patented inventions have pervaded every aspect of human life, from electric lighting (patents held by Edison and Swan) and sewing machines (patents held by Howe and Singer), to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (patents held by Damadian) and the iPhone (patents held by Apple).
In return for patent protection, all patent owners are obliged to publicly disclose information on their inventions in order to enrich the total body of technical knowledge in the world. This ever increasing body of public knowledge promotes further creativity and innovation. Patents therefore provide not only protection for their owners but also valuable information and inspiration for future generations of researchers and inventors.
The first step in securing a patent is to file a patent application. The application generally contains the title of the invention, as well as an indication of its technical field. It must include the background and a description of the invention, in clear language and enough detail that an individual with an average understanding of the field could use or reproduce the invention. Such descriptions are usually accompanied by visual materials – drawings, plans or diagrams – that describe the invention in greater detail. The application also contains various “claims”, that is, information to help determine the extent of protection to be granted by the patent.
An invention must, in general, fulfill the following conditions to be protected by a patent. It must be of practical use; it must show an element of “novelty”, meaning some new characteristic that is not part of the body of existing knowledge in its particular technical field. That body of existing knowledge is called “prior art”. The invention must show an “inventive step” that could not be deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field. Its subject matter must be accepted as “patentable” under law. In many countries, scientific theories, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods or methods of medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) are not generally patentable.
Patents are granted by national patent offices or by regional offices that carry out examination work for a group of countries – for example, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI). Under such regional systems, an applicant requests protection for an invention in one or more countries, and each country decides whether to offer patent protection within its borders. The WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides for the filing of a single international patent application that has the same effect as national applications filed in the designated countries. An applicant seeking protection may file one application and request protection in as many signatory states as needed.
A trademark is a distinctive sign that identifies certain goods or services produced or provided by an individual or a company. Its origin dates back to ancient times when craftsmen reproduced their signatures, or “marks”, on their artistic works or products of a functional or practical nature. Over the years, these marks have evolved into today’s system of trademark registration and protection. The system helps consumers to identify and purchase a product or service based on whether its specific characteristics and quality – as indicated by its unique trademark – meet their needs.
Trademark protection ensures that the owners of marks have the exclusive right to use them to identify goods or services, or to authorize others to use them in return for payment. The period of protection varies, but a trademark can be renewed indefinitely upon payment of the corresponding fees. Trademark protection is legally enforced by courts that, in most systems, have the authority to stop trademark infringement.
In a larger sense, trademarks promote initiative and enterprise worldwide by rewarding their owners with recognition and financial profit. Trademark protection also hinders the efforts of unfair competitors, such as counterfeiters, to use similar distinctive signs to market inferior or different products or services. The system enables people with skill and enterprise to produce and market goods and services in the fairest possible conditions, thereby facilitating international trade.
Trademarks may be one or a combination of words, letters and numerals. They may consist of drawings, symbols or three dimensional signs, such as the shape and packaging of goods. In some countries, non-traditional marks may be registered for distinguishing features such as holograms, motion, color and non-visible signs (sound, smell or taste).
In addition to identifying the commercial source of goods or services, several other trademark categories also exist. Collective marks are owned by an association whose members use them to indicate products with a certain level of quality and who agree to adhere to specific requirements set by the association. Such associations might represent, for example, accountants, engineers or architects.
First, an application for registration of a trademark must be filed with the appropriate national or regional trademark office. The application must contain a clear reproduction of the sign filed for registration, including any colors, forms or three-dimensional features. It must also contain a list of the goods or services to which the sign would apply. The sign must fulfill certain conditions in order to be protected as a trademark or other type of mark. It must be distinctive, so that consumers can distinguish it from trademarks identifying other products, as well as identify a particular product with it. It must neither mislead nor deceive customers nor violate public order or morality.
Finally, the rights applied for cannot be the same as, or similar to, rights already granted to another trademark owner. This may be determined through search and examination by national offices, or by the opposition of third parties who claim to have similar or identical rights.
Almost all countries in the world register and protect trademarks. Each national or regional office maintains a Register of Trademarks containing full application information on all registrations and renewals, which facilitates examination, search and potential opposition by third parties. The effects of the registration are, however, limited to the country (or, in the case of regional registration, countries) concerned.
An industrial design refers to the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of an article. A design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or two- dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color. Industrial designs are applied to a wide variety of industrial products and handicrafts: from technical and medical instruments to watches, jewelry and other luxury items; from house wares and electrical appliances to vehicles and architectural structures; from textile designs to leisure goods.
To be protected under most national laws, an industrial design must be new or original and nonfunctional. This means that an industrial design is primarily of an aesthetic nature, and any technical features of the article to which it is applied are not protected by the design registration. However, those features could be protected by a patent.
Industrial designs are what make an article attractive and appealing; hence, they add to the commercial value of a product and increase its marketability.
When an industrial design is protected, the owner – the person or entity that has registered the design – is assured an exclusive right and protection against unauthorized copying or imitation of the design by third parties. This helps to ensure a fair return on investment. An effective system of protection also benefits consumers and the public at large, by promoting fair competition and honest trade practices, encouraging creativity and promoting more aesthetically pleasing products.
Protecting industrial designs helps to promote economic development by encouraging creativity in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, as well as in traditional arts and crafts. Designs contribute to the expansion of commercial activity and the export of national products. Industrial designs can be relatively simple and inexpensive to develop and protect. They are reasonably accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises as well as to individual artists and crafts makers, in both developed and developing countries.
In most countries, an industrial design must be registered in order to be protected under industrial design law. As a rule, to be registerable, the design must be “new” or “original”. Countries have varying definitions of such terms, as well as variations in the registration process itself.
Generally, “new” means that no identical or very similar design is known to have previously existed. Once a design is registered, a registration certificate is issued. Following that, the term of protection granted is generally five years, with the possibility of further renewal, in most cases for a period of up to 15 years.
Hardly any other subject matter within the realm of intellectual property is as difficult to categorize as industrial designs. And this has significant implications for the means and terms of its protection. Depending on the particular national law and the kind of design, an industrial design may also be protected as a work of applied art under copyright law, with a much longer term of protection than the standard 10 or 15 years under registered design law. In some countries, industrial design and copyright protection can exist concurrently. In other countries, they are mutually exclusive: once owners choose one kind of protection, they can no longer invoke the other.
Under certain circumstances an industrial design may also be protectable under unfair competition law, although the conditions of protection and the rights and remedies available can differ significantly.
A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation due to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication consists of the name of the place of origin of the goods. Agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local geographical factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign functions as a geographical indication is a matter of national law and consumer perception. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, such as, for example, “Tuscany” for olive oil produced in a specific area of Italy, or “Roquefort” for cheese produced in that region of France.
The use of geographical indications is not limited to agricultural products. They may also highlight specific qualities of a product that are due to human factors found in the product’s place of origin, such as specific manufacturing skills and traditions. The place of origin may be a village or town, a region or a country. An example of the latter is “Switzerland” or “Swiss”, perceived as a geographical indication in many countries for products made in Switzerland and, in particular, for watches.
Geographical indications are understood by consumers to denote the origin and quality of products. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by commercial operators. False use of geographical indications by unauthorized parties, for example “Darjeeling” for tea that was not grown in the tea gardens of Darjeeling, is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers. The former are deceived into believing they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, and the latter are deprived of valuable business and suffer damage to the established reputation of their products.
A trademark is a sign used by a company to distinguish its goods and services from those produced by others. It gives its owner the right to prevent others from using the trademark. A geographical indication guarantees to consumers that a product was produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. It may be used by all producers who make products that share certain qualities in the place designated by a geographical indication.
Copyright laws grant authors, artists and other creators protection for their literary and artistic creations, generally referred to as “works”. A closely associated field is “related rights” or rights related to copyright that encompass rights similar or identical to those of copyright, although sometimes more limited and of shorter duration. The beneficiaries of related rights are:
Performers (such as actors and musicians) in their performances;
Producers of phonograms (for example, compact discs) in their sound recordings; and
Broadcasting organizations in their radio and television programs.
Works covered by copyright include, but are not limited to: novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspapers, advertisements, computer programs, databases, films, musical compositions, choreography, paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, architecture, maps and technical drawings.
The creators of works protected by copyright, and their heirs and successors (generally referred to as “right holders”), have certain basic rights under copyright law. They hold the exclusive right to use or authorize others to use the work on agreed terms. The right holder(s) of a work can authorize or prohibit:
It’s reproduction in all forms, including print form and sound recording;
It’s public performance and communication to the public;
It’s broadcasting; its translation into other languages; and
It’s adaptation, such as from a novel to a screenplay for a film.
Similar rights of, among others, fixation (recording) and reproduction are granted under related rights.
Many types of works protected under the laws of copyright and related rights require mass distribution, communication and financial investment for their successful dissemination (for example, publications, sound recordings and films). Hence, creators often transfer these
rights to companies better able to develop and market the works, in return for compensation in the form of payments and/or royalties (compensation based on a percentage of revenues generated by the work).
Copyright and related rights protection is an essential component in fostering human creativity and innovation. Giving authors, artists and creators incentives in the form of recognition and fair economic reward increases their activity and output and can also enhance the results. By ensuring the existence and enforceability of rights, individuals and companies can more easily invest in the creation, development and global dissemination of their works. This, in turn, helps to increase access to and enhance the enjoyment of culture, knowledge and entertainment the world over, and also stimulates economic and social development.
Marking is not compulsory in the Middle East and North Africa. However, using any of those symbols on
a trademark is advisable because it will give notice to the public about the owners' rights.
In principal, the ™ symbol may be used when trademark rights are claimed in relation to a mark that has not been registered at the Trademark Office of a particular jurisdiction, meaning that, the use of the ™ symbol does not mean a legally enforceable trademark. The registration symbol ®, however, does carry legal weight. It should only be used when the mark is registered with the Trademark Office of a particular jurisdiction. Using the symbol ® illegitimately may be treated as fraudulent marking in most of the countries in our region.
It is necessary to file applications in the MENA in respect of certain goods or services. All jurisdictions
have adopted the Nice Classification with some having their own requirements as to what type of
specification of goods or services will be permitted. For example, in Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, class 33 and alcoholic goods in class 32 cannot be
registered. Also, pork meat in class 29 cannot be registered in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, in some countries, the applicant can file an application claiming the whole class without specifying the particular goods/services. The Trademark Offices do not object to the use of any of the class headings as being too indefinite or non-specific (such is the case in Egypt and the UAE, for example). Even more, in Saudi Arabia a claim other than a class heading or an item from a class heading will not be accepted. In other countries, such as Jordan and Sudan, the applicant must specify the goods/services in the class, otherwise the application will not be accepted. In other words, the actual language used in the specification of the goods/services in the registration will define the parameters of the scope of protection of a trademark registration.