The Arab British Chamber of Commerce held a one-day conference at the Langham Hotel in London addressing the subject of Intellectual Property (IP) crime. Insight was provided by a number of leading politicians and ministers, both from here in the UK and across the Arab Countries.
Some years ago having spoken on the subject of IP in the context of SMEs, sharing a platform with the then giant Nokia, who that year had spent $3bn on R&D, at the European Parliament, I was particularly interested in how the discussion progressed from tangible to intangible IP.
Mr Adil el-Maliki, Director General of the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office made a distinction between shifting dynamics, where, whether developed or developing, brands domestic and foreign, particularly in an age where transport and information are easily available, are seeking a global identity. He touched on the need to support and protect domestic IP, demonstrating through various charts that awareness of such, through the submission of patent applications, has been growing year-on-year. His message? IP is a tool which through education, must be taken advantage of.
Mrs Cherie Blair, Barrister at Omnia Strategy who chaired the session added that it isn’t just about brands such as Apple and Hermes, but all brands. She continued by comparing speeding to IP theft, where the former has now been criminalised stressing the need for the latter requiring the same. Worse, she gave the example of counterfeit drugs, 60% of which have no active ingredients; even air bags in cars, which do not work properly as they are counterfeit. And in the digital space, she shared that 1.4 million people have downloaded illegal copies of Downton Abbey; a popular British drama.
H.E. Sheikh Nasser Bin Ibrahim al-Mohaimeed, Head of Judicial Inspection, Saudi Arabia, spoke of the importance of understanding the concept of IP, and, moreover, why it is important to enforce. A similar message was delivered by his fellow countryman, H.E. Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdel Aziz Al Ghossan, President of the National Committee of Lawyers who spoke comparing how the concept of IP can be found within established Islamic principles of justice and fairness.
Mr Robert Bond, Partner, Speechly Bircham, took the discussion of tangible vs intangible IP one step further identifying a triangular relationship between Governments, Entrepreneurs/Business and the Consumers. He shared that a recent OECD study confirmed the growth of pirated goods year-on-year, and that 1 in 5 companies have suffered attempts to steal trade secrets over the past 10 years. Further, when sharing insight on how youngsters do not understand the importance and value of secrecy in business, he shared an interesting anecdote.
Recently in a meeting, an intern at his office was fiddling on her phone under the desk. A colleague took her phone and noticed that she was about to post a status on Facebook revealing that the company in her meeting was about to go public. When questioned, she simply said that it is only Facebook, not realising the implications of revealing such information in a public forum prematurely. In an age of instant sharing of any and every piece of information, an education must take place to ensure that the values of IP and trade secrets are better understood.
Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, shared that 76 million citizens of the EU are employed in jobs requiring IP rights to be protected. He then shared that there are over 250 organised crime groups in the UK accounting for IP theft making IP crime a national priority to address, Curiously, 44% of web users are not confident of the legality of the content they are viewing.
Mr Mike Pullen of DLA Piper took this a step further sharing that the average consumer is conflicted for they may download an item of music but they would not walk into a store and steal a chocolate bar. Thus a substantial drive to educate the everyday consumer is needed.
Returning to tangible goods, Mr Majed bin Mohammed Bin Garoub, Secretary General of the National Union of Lawyers in the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) countries joked that counterfeit products are so common that there may be people in the audience wearing a fake watch. He stressed that while the consumer focuses on the end product, many consumers may not be aware of how IP rights are misused in the processes leading to the end product. He further made the distinction how the Anglo-Saxon culture focused on litigation while the Arab culture focused on reconciliation and settlement: two very different approaches to addressing the subject matter. Later, and light heartedly, when asked what a person’s rights are when it is a government who steals the IP of an entrepreneur, he joked that he felt sorry for the judge!
Jane Lambert, Barrister at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, shared how 155 countries have agreed to Trade Related Aspects Of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) ensuring that countries will provide minimum standards e.g. goodwill. She shared how even certain varieties of cheese have IP. Crucially, she stressed that not all copyright infringement is piracy, it is usually that which is done on a commercial scale.
Mr David Meldrum, Partner, D Young & Co, spoke on the needs to educate the young and entrepreneurs, both here but also across the Arab world. He cites how many young people, excited with an idea, share it via social media. Someone sees their idea, thinks it is a good one, then make it. All the while, the entrepreneur, now unable to protect their idea, loses out.
In all, the conference raised three important matters: (1) Understanding the changing landscape where IP goes beyond the tangible and now includes the intangible. (2) The importance of educating oneself on the subject of IP so as to protect your rights. And (3) That IP theft is not a victimless crime. If societies and economies are to progress, entrepreneurs and businesses ought to take steps to secure their rights, while governments must work together to ensure a framework that protects IP is not just made available, but enforced.