In a recent article reviewing the state of intellectual property (IP) rights in the Middle East, one IP legal expert tactfully commented that the enforcement of IP rights “varies widely from country to country.” Although the Gulf Cooperation Council member states are signatories to various IP-related international conventions, such as the Paris and Berne Conventions and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), the transplantation of IP law into those countries has generally been a tortuous process in which active enforcement has played a fleeting role at best.
Recent events in Saudi Arabia, however, suggest that the Kingdom is taking IP enforcement seriously. The Arab News reported that the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) “has launched a campaign aimed at inspecting websites to verify their compliance with intellectual property systems and ensure they do not violate intellectual rights.” That campaign has two elements: (1) viewing websites “that broadcast movies, sports matches and TV series and sell books”; and (2) conducting field inspections of stores in Riyadh, Jeddah. and Dammam.
The stated main goal of these inspection visits is to increase public awareness about the breach of intellectual properties. Of the more than 355 websites visited, however, the SAIP found that 77 had violate intellectual property rights, and those sites were subsequently blocked.
In addition, during January 2021 the campaign resulted in the seizure of more than 11,620 items that violated creative rights, “including electronic goods, computer programs, sound recordings, and printed works.” According to Yasser Al-Debassi, the SAIP’s Executive Director of Intellectual Property Respect and Enforcement, the SAIP’s approach was to apply the “mystery shopper” approach, in which SAIP inspectors acted as if they were shoppers while gathering information from markets and identifying the types of breaches and the methods used for IP piracy. Then, as Al-Debassi put it, “we design plans and training programs to curb these practices.”
A single crackdown on IP violations, of course, is not a systematic program to enforce IP rights. In mid-January, however, the SAIP also convened a National Committee for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in the Kingdom, which proposed national programs and initiatives to ensure the respect of IP rights, as well as the development of procedures for IP enforcement bodies. Taken together, the Saudi crackdown approach and the SAIP’s action plan should serve as an example for other GCC nations that need to take IP enforcement more seriously.