GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Towards a Local STI-Based Intellectual Property Regime in GCC Countries
Paper Proposal Text :
Intellectual property is the catalyst to accelerate the development of STI capacity. It provides incentives as well as protection for researchers to turn papers into patents, patents into prototypes and products. Without related commercialization processes, STI activities could be largely confined to the laboratories. Currently, GCC countries represented less than 0.1% of the world stock of patents registered at the US, European and Japanese patent offices. This low output of patents demonstrates a weak STI partnership between the region’s private and public sectors. Consequently, innovation is exceedingly lagging behind the region’s science and technology initiatives. Hence, any attempt to design a comprehensive STI policy that addresses the supporting aspects of innovation must address intellectual property protection in the region.

Until recently, the lack of emphasis on intellectual property has been coupled with the lack of emphasis on STI in GCC countries. Appreciation for STI was an almost alien concept in the mindset of the GCC private sector, which had always been strong in trading goods and services rather than manufacturing. This historical trading culture has also shaped the people’s mindset towards intellectual property rights. Although GCC countries are members to most of the leading international organizations involved in the protection of intellectual property, and GCC countries have commonly enacted national legislation in accordance to their international obligations (e.g. TRIPS), intellectual property rights have been largely unenforced. Perceived benefits of such ‘western’ intellectual property laws in relation to GCC countries’ local STI development is controversial. As for decades GCC countries have assumed the role of consumers rather than owners of intellectual property assets, many fear that enforcing intellectual property rights could only exacerbate the region’s dependency on the West for continued technological transfers.

This ‘dependency fear’ is not unique to the GCC countries, but rather largely shared by the developing countries around the world. However, this sentiment in the GCC countries is complicated by the cultural and religious forces deeply rooted in Middle Eastern history, in particular, the resistance to Western commercialism. A unique form of selective intellectual property culture was formed: people tend to see domestic copying as not merely desirous but actually necessary for their own survival, and also as a means of exacting revenge for the West’s relentless commercial conquest of the region. At the same time, respect is given to local works, for the local markets are heavily dependent on personal relationships. As a result, while GCC countries are promoting intellectual property rights protection for works of other Middle Easterners, Western goods are pirated indiscriminately.

The question is not whether one practice will overtake another in the GCC countries: at a time when international STI co-operation is crucial to addressing the interrelated, complex and growing regional challenges, it no longer makes much sense to design intellectual property laws in purely national or regional terms. Indeed, a globalized intellectual property regime could be a double-edge sword; however, the rewards are significant as compared to the risks. The key is to proactively reinvigorate GCC countries’ own intellectual property capacity so that they break free of the dependency trap. This paper studies the UAE's undertakings in the intellectual property sphere, and shows that even a country that initially had low intellectual property capacity and a high reliance on natural resources, can chart its own distinct path towards a STI-rich economy. During the past decade, the UAE has been engaged in creating a fertile environment in which not only can foreign intellectual property rights flourish, but also its own intellectual property has been developed and enhanced. This has been realized through a multi-layered system that is essentially a synthesis between national infrastructure and collaboration with foreign intellectual property holders. In this manner, the UAE has successfully made a globally-oriented intellectual property policy work to its advantage.

The UAE is now among the top 20 countries in the world in protecting intellectual property and combating piracy. It is also the highest-ranking GCC country in terms of its capacity for innovation. This paper argues that the UAE model could act as a beacon for other GCC countries. Its experience suggests that the region shall go far beyond its TRIPS and WTO obligations in order to create a legislative framework that is ‘nurturing’ for developing its own local STI capacity. Using the UAE model as a starting point, this paper explores the feasible steps for other GCC countries. The goal is to develop a local STI-based intellectual property regime, where the GCC countries are no longer merely consumers but rather the originator and creator of intellectual property subject matter.