Protecting Your Intellectual Property in Egypt

An Expert's View about Intellectual Property Law in Egypt

Last updated: 13 Mar 2011

Introduction

Several general principles are important for effective management of intellectual property rights in Egypt. First, it is important to have an overall strategy to protect IPR. Second, IPR is protected differently in Egypt than in the U.S. Third, rights must be registered and enforced in Egypt, under local laws. Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys or IP consultants. The U.S. Commercial Service can often provide a list of local lawyers upon request; however we cannot make any recommendations. It is vital that companies understand that intellectual property is primarily a private right and that the US government generally cannot enforce rights for private individuals in Egypt. It is the responsibility of the rights' holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, retaining their own counsel and advisors. While the U.S. Government is willing to assist, there is little it can do if the rights holders have not taken these fundamental steps necessary to securing and enforcing their IPR in a timely fashion. Moreover, in many countries, rights holders who delay enforcing their rights on a mistaken belief that the USG can provide a political resolution to a legal problem may find that their rights have been eroded or abrogated due to doctrines such as statutes of limitations or unreasonable delay in prosecuting a law suit. In no instance should USG advice be seen as a substitute for the obligation of a rights holder to promptly pursue its case.

 

It is always advisable to conduct due diligence on partners. Negotiate from the position of your partner and give your partner clear incentives to honor the contract. A good partner is an important ally in protecting IP rights. Keep an eye on your cost structure and reduce the margins (and the incentive) of would-be bad actors. Projects and sales in Egypt require constant attention. Work with legal counsel familiar with Egyptian laws to create a solid contract that includes non-compete clauses, and confidentiality/nondisclosure provisions.

 

It is also recommended that small and medium-size companies understand the importance of working together with trade associations and organizations to support efforts to protect IPR and stop counterfeiting. There are a number of these organizations, both Egypt and U.S.-based. These include:

 

- The U.S. Chamber and local American Chambers of Commerce

- National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

- International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA)

- International Trademark Association (INTA)

- The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy

- International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC)

- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)

- Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)

- The Egyptian Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology (ECIPIT)

 

IPR Resources

A wealth of information on protecting IPR is freely available to U.S. rights holders. Some excellent resources for companies regarding intellectual property include the following:

- For information about patent, trademark, or copyright issues -- including enforcement issues in the US and other countries -- call the STOP! Hotline: 1- 866-999-HALT

 

- For more information about registering trademarks and patents (both in the U.S. as well as in foreign countries), contact the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at: 1-800-786-9199.

 

- For more information about registering for copyright protection in the US, contact the US Copyright Office at: 1-202-707-5959.

 

- For US small and medium-size companies, the Department of Commerce offers a "SME IPR Advisory Program" available through the American Bar Association that provides one hour of free IPR legal advice for companies with concerns in Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Russia, and Thailand.

 

- For information on obtaining and enforcing intellectual property rights and market-specific IP Toolkits visit: www.StopFakes.gov. This site is linked to the USPTO website for registering trademarks and patents (both in the U.S. as well as in foreign countries), the U.S. Customs & Border Protection website to record registered trademarks and copyrighted works (to assist customs in blocking imports of IPR-infringing products) and allows you to register for Webinars on protecting IPR.

 

For an in-depth examination of IPR requirements in specific markets, toolkits are currently available in the following countries/territories: Brazil, Brunei, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

- The U.S. Commerce Department has positioned IP attachés in key markets around the world.

 

IPR Climate in Egypt

Egypt is a signatory to the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, the Berne Copyright Convention, the Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks 1954, and the Nice Agreement Concerning the International classification of goods and services, the Stockholm Act of 1967, the Hague Agreement, the Geneva Act 1999, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (1970 as modified and amended), and the Trademark Law Treaty.

 

In recent years, Egypt has made some progress in strengthening its IPR regime through improvements in its domestic legal framework and enforcement capabilities. In May 2002, Egypt enacted a new comprehensive IPR law (Law 82 of 2002) that met certain key TRIPS requirements, including providing data exclusivity and exclusive marketing rights and enacting a patent mailbox. The law also addressed IPR protection in areas such as patents, copyrights (with enhanced protection for sound and motion-picture recordings and computer software), trademarks, plant varieties, industrial design, and integrated circuit layout design.

 

Although the law has certain shortcomings, its passage demonstrated a marked improvement in the major facets of Egypt's IPR regime. In July 2003, implementing regulations for the patent, trademark, and botanical variety provisions of the law were issued. Implementing regulations for Copyright provisions were issued in 2005. Egypt also ratified the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2003.

 

From April 2001 until December 2003, the Government of Egypt did not approve any generic copies of internationally protected pharmaceuticals. Since then, however, the Minister of Health has approved local copies of pharmaceuticals, in violation of Egypt's international property protection obligations. The international property protection problem appeared to worsen in late 2004 when the Egyptian Ministry of Health apparently embarked on the approval of a significant number of copies of pharmaceutical products for marketing in Egypt. As a result, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in 2004 elevated Egypt from the "Watch List" to the "Priority Watch List" (where it had been until 2003) during its annual "Special 301" IPR review. After 4 years on the Priority Watch List, USTR lowered Egypt to Watch List in 2008. Reasons cited for the movement to Watch List in 2008 included progress in improving Egypt’s IPR regime overall, especially in the area of pharmaceutical IPRs, and increased bilateral communication on IPR between the governments of Egypt and the United States. Egypt remained in the Watch list in 2009 report even in light of efforts done in the Area of the IPR Enforcement, particularly in the area of entertainment and business software piracy.

 

A modern, computerized Egyptian Patent Office operating under the authority of the Ministry of Higher Education and State for Scientific Research processes patent applications and grants patent protection. The government has significantly improved the quality and transparency of Egypt's trademark and industrial design registration system. In preparation for the new WTO patent regime, in effect as of January 1, 2005, the Ministry began hiring new technical examination staff in 2003.

 

The International Intellectual Property Alliance’s (IIPA) 2008 Special 301 Report estimated that the level of piracy for business software in Egypt during 2008 had fallen to 59% from 60% the previous year. IIPA also estimated the level of piracy for records and music in Egypt to be 75% during 2007, up from 70% the previous year.

 

The following paragraphs summarize the law's provisions on different types of IPR: Patents: The law increases the protection period for a patent term to 20 years, and for pharmaceuticals includes provisions on data exclusivity and exclusive marketing rights which had been adopted by Prime Ministerial decree in 2000. Egypt has elected to be treated as a Developing Country for pharmaceuticals and chemicals under the TRIPS Agreement. As of January 1, 2005, Egypt has been required to be in full compliance with its TRIPS patent obligations. There were estimated to be some 4,000 patent applications filed in its TRIPs "mailbox" for applications relating to pharmaceutical products. The patent authorities began to review these applications in 2005 as required. The Egyptian Patent Office now reports that all applications filed in the WTO TRIPs mailbox have been processed.

 

Adopting first Arab, African Egyptian patent office as int'l body On Friday September 25, 2009 The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) approved the Egyptian Patent Office as an international body; thereby adopting the first Arab, African patent office. The step is part of a cooperation treaty under which the Egyptian Patent Office will accept patent applications from all countries. It came after years of preparations made by the Egyptian government with the UN specialized agency (WIPO).

 

Egypt became the first country in Africa and the Middle East and the third in the developing world to have acquired this authority. The office, established in 1951, is affiliated to the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology. Since 1975, Egypt has been a member of the WIPO which is dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property system, which rewards creativity, stimulates innovation and contributes to economic development while safeguarding the public interest.

 

Data Protection: In January 2007, the Government of Egypt announced its enactment of a new streamlined drug registration system for drugs carrying a USFDA or EMEA approval. Such a system would be useful to increase the effective pharmaceutical data protection period, which is counted as five years starting from the date the application for registration of a drug is filed at the Ministry of Health. The system does not yet operate as intended.

 

Copyrights: The new law offers copyright protection to artistic and literary works, computer programs, and audio-visual works. Books and computer programs are provided protection for the author's lifetime plus 50 years. Sound recordings are granted 50 years protection from the recording date. The specified penalty for copyright violations is a fine of LE 5,000-10,000 per infringement or a prison term of not less than one month, or both. The 2005 implementing regulations for copyrights were amended twice in 2006 primarily to address procedural matters. Significantly, the latest amendments clarified that registration and enforcement authority for software and database IPRs rests with the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). Trademarks: The new IPR law offers trademark protection of ten years, in accordance with the Trademark Law Treaty. Penalties have increased to a maximum of 20,000 Egyptian pounds or imprisonment of not less than one month, or both. Madrid Protocol: On December 24, 2008, a joint Shura Council and People's Assembly Committee agreed to the ratification of the Madrid Protocol relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks. The Committee approved the treaty. Egypt has been a signatory of the Madrid Protocol (since June 28, 1989) but it never ratified the treaty, and as such did not enter into force. Joining the Madrid Protocol should improve US-Egyptian trade by opening the way for Egyptian businesses to register their marks in more foreign countries through a single filing, by simply designating the countries in which they want to register. Egyptian companies will have this advantage in an additional 27 countries or territories that have joined the Protocol but not the Madrid Agreement, including the United States and the European Union. In addition, US businesses will now be free to designate Egypt on their single trademark filing under the Madrid Protocol, rather than having to hire a local agent and file directly in the Egyptian Trademark Office in the Commercial Registry Administration. There are also other advantages to the Protocol such as filings and correspondence which can be conducted in the English-language under the Protocol and fees should be higher for Egypt.

 

Semiconductor Chip Layout Design: The new law incorporates a chapter for protecting semiconductor chip layout design. Previously there was no legislation protecting semiconductor chip layout design, although Egypt had signed the Washington Semiconductor Convention.

 

In recent years the United States has provided significant assistance through USAIDfunded projects to Egypt in order to establish and strengthen the Government of Egypt’s IPR-related institutions. A modern computerized Patent Office is now capable of processing and ensuring the protection of patent applications, and the quality and transparency of the trademark and industrial design registration system has been significantly improved. The Government of Egypt has also taken steps to ensure the authorized use of legitimate business software by civilian government departments. Although progress has been made, further steps must be taken to strengthen protection of copyrighted material and confidential test data. High copyright-piracy levels continue to affect many categories of intellectual property, particularly book publishing, , music recordings, and motion pictures.

 

For more information, please see Egypt’s Intellectual Property Unit in the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States

 

 

 

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Posted: 08 June 2010, last updated 13 March 2011