This conference was held on 12 December 2013 in London. We attended because we felt it would provide insights about topical IP issues in the Middle East.
1. Keynote speakers included Ministers for Justice from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the UK Minister of State for Justice, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property and Cherie Blair. So it was clearly both a diplomatic and IP conference. It showed that IP issues are taking a much higher profile in International relations and even countries in the Middle East are accepting that the implications of the knowledge and digital economy affects every country.
2. The WTO and TRIPS were essentially the driving forces for Middle Eastern countries providing IP rights and methods of enforcement.
3. Saudi judges and legal practitioners in the area came across as very aware of the correct balance needing to be struck between IP rights holders and third parties, and there were clearly mechanisms in place in Saudi Arabia to regulate prices and to keep in check the behaviour of IP holders.
4. The topic of whether infringement of IP rights should be a criminal act was mentioned by several speakers, and clearly there are counter-arguments to this. It was clear that whilst the overall tone of the conference was very supportive of IP rights holders, there were also moderating voices.
5. It was clear that enforcement of IP rights was within Islamic legal principles. There was also an understanding that it was in the national interests of Middle Eastern countries, though this is probably a complex conclusion to establish.
6. Morocco is keen for its population to take much more advantage of IP rights, particularly for handicrafts. It recognises that it is exposed to open competition and operates within a knowledge economy.
7. Many consumers do not presently see anything wrong with illegally downloading films and music or buying fake luxury goods. Consumer education was seen as a priority.
8. Cybercrime and security were seen as areas of concern.
9. It was noted that the controversy of pharma patents making drugs expensive in the developing world was harming support for IP rights holders.
10. We noted from people that we met at coffee that the Middle East is attracting UK IP lawyers. D. Young & Co., a UK patent firm, has opened offices there recently.