The Middle East and North Africa is a very attractive market for innovator companies to consider when looking at expanding presence internationally. Given the improving patent landscape and developing economies of the countries in the region it is certainly time to take a step back and consider your patent portfolio and your filing strategy in the MENA. The below cheat sheet sums up the most important and relevant questions on patenting in the region.            

Is there a regional patent office for the MENA?

While there is not a regional patent office covering the whole region, there is a regional patent office which extends protection to the GCC member countries. The GCC Patent Office is located in Saudi Arabia, and operates independently from the Saudi Arabian Patent Office. The GCC Patent Office is not a signatory of the Paris Convention nor is it a member of the PCT. Nevertheless, the office accepts patent applications claiming up to a 12 month priority.

Is it required to validate a GCC Patent in each member country?

One application filed with the GCC Patent Office automatically designates all six GCC member countries, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and no further validation is required upon grant. The resulting patent is automatically enforceable in all six countries. Annuity payments are due annually during the first quarter of each year and are paid centrally to the GCC Patent Office, and not to each individual country.

Are patent applications examined in Arabic or English?

Depending on the country, applications will be examined in either language. For example, patent applications in Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are always examined based on the Arabic translation of the specifications. The search reports and opinions are also issued in Arabic and the responses have to also be submitted in Arabic.

The UAE Patent Office has entered into agreements with various patent offices, such as most recently the South Korean Intellectual Property Office. Accordingly, examination takes place in English, although all documents have to be provided in both English and Arabic for archiving and publication purposes. Another example is the GCC Patent Office. While the GCC Patent Office examines some applications locally in Arabic, the office also outsources others to foreign patent offices. Accordingly, it is possible to see search reports and opinions issued in either language.

Are there specialized courts for handling patent-related cases?

No. For the time being, and in the absence of specialized courts and judges, legal matters such as patent infringement cases are handled in courts of first instances or civil courts depending on the country. An expert or a panel of experts is appointed by the court to provide both a legal and technical opinion on an ongoing case. The court will take into account arguments presented by both parties as well as the expert opinion prior to issuing a decision. The expert opinion may be challenged during the proceedings and further experts brought in.

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