The government of Saudi issued in May last year a national policy on the right to information, making Saudi the first country in the GCC to formally recognise the right to information as a legitimate right for members of the public. However, even though this is a transparency policy, the actual text of the policy was not available to the public in full until very recently. This post looks at the non-legally binding nature of this policy, its widely worded exceptions, and the lack of an external appeal process or any other mechanism for enforcing it. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, this policy remains a major milestone for the right to information in the GCC and may encourage other governments in the region to consider granting their citizens similar rights.
The TRA is currently seeking public comments on its proposed amendments to the Omani Domain Name Regulation. This proposed amendment intends to open up categories of domain names under the .om country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) that are currently restricted from registration. It also intends to open up the registration of .om domain names to natural and legal persons from around the world without requiring them to have any connection with the country. If the TRA goes ahead with its plan, the options for domain name registration available to Omani businesses will significantly reduce while putting the safety of internet users around the world at significant risk.
Last month, the Sultan of Oman issued a brand new constitution that made the headlines for setting a new mechanism for the succession of power and for designating a crown prince. However, something that was overshadowed by these groundbreaking developments is the recognition of the right to private life in Article 36 of this new constitution – a right that was not previously recognised in such a manner in Oman.
The Ministry of Technology and Communications has very recently issued a circular announcing the release of the government’s new Open Data Policy. This policy sets the general framework that government entities must follow when releasing their data to the public in a way that should maximise the ability of businesses, journalists, members of the public, and other government entities to benefit from government data.
We missed a small development on the intellectual property side of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in the GCC. Several months ago, Qatar attempted to take control of the domain name beoutq.se, but its attempt was not successful.
Qatar is taking a variety of actions to stop the illegal broadcasting of the signal of beIN Sports by beoutQ – a pirate sports TV network intended to provide sports fans in Saudi and Bahrain with an alternative to watching beIN Sports. In both of these countries, beIN Sports has been officially banned as part of their ongoing feud with Qatar.
In addition to the variety of legal complaints Qatar is making against Saudi, Bahrain, and the UAE in regard to their failure to allow Qatari rights-holders to enforce their intellectual property rights in connection with the infringement of beIN Sports trademarks and broadcasting rights, Qatar made a separate small attempt at taking control of one of the domain names from which
The Office of the United States Trade Representative just issued the Special 301 Report for 2018 – an annual report by the government of the United States that identifies claimed shortcomings of intellectual property laws of foreign countries. This year’s report continues to list Kuwait on the ‘Priority Watch List’ and adds Saudi and the UAE to the ‘Watch List’.
Even though Kuwait has issued a brand new copyright law in 2016, the United States is not still satisfied with this law in regard to ‘the term of protection; limitations on the amount of work reproduced; enforcement, remedies, and damages; and definitions’. According to this report, ‘Kuwait is in the process of drafting amendments to the Law’.
The United States is not happy with the extent to which Saudi grants ‘marketing approvals to domestic companies to produce generic versions of pharmaceutical products that are under patent protection either in Saudi Arabia or in the GCC’. There is also apparently a ‘continued use of unlicensed software by the government’.
In the UAE, the United States has ‘concerns about combatting the sale and transshipment of counterfeit goods’, especially those relating to physical counterfeit markets in the UAE and the lack of IP enforcement mechanisms within free trade zones. The United States also demands that UAE starts granting ‘the necessary operating licenses to establish [collecting management organisations (CMOs)] to allow copyright licensing and royalty payments’. According to this report, trademark filing fees in UAE ‘are the highest in the world and considered cost-prohibitive to protecting trademarks in the UAE’. Finally, the report complains about UAE officials allowing ‘domestic manufacture of generic versions of pharmaceutical products still under patent protection in the United States’, and has questions about ‘whether the UAE intends to continue to recognize patents granted by the GCC Patent Office’.
While Kuwait has been listed in every single edition of the Special 301 Report, this is the first time the UAE is ever included in it. The last time Saudi was listed is 2009 – almost a decade ago.
This report has no legal power of its own, but it is used by the United States to lobby countries around the world to change their laws to make them more protective of IP rights owned by American corporations.
Photo credits: “Kuwait City” by Meshal Alawadhi – CC BY-NC 2.0
As a follow-up to my previous post, I think it is important to address the problem of inconsistent spelling in Oman in general because Sohar is not the first or the last city name/brand to be harmed by arbitrary spelling changes. It only takes a day’s drive anywhere in Oman to notice the randomness of how names of Omani places are spelt. Spelling nightmares in Oman range from major cities such as Sohar, Seeb (as Sib, al-Seeb), and Matrah (Mutrah, Muttrah), to neighbourhoods in the heart of the capital such as Athaiba (Azaiba, Odaiba, Al-Athaiba) and Mabaila (Mabela).
It’s been almost a year since the new spelling of Sohar – with a ‘U’ instead of ‘O’ (Suhar) – started appearing on the highways in Oman. I, like many other people, have been extremely annoyed by this arbitrary change to the spelling of the name of my beloved hometown. This change in the spelling is not only annoying, but it is harmful to the identity of the city and to many businesses that are based in Sohar or have the word Sohar as part of their registered trademark names.
I wrote a column for Muscat Daily a while ago on the new arbitrary restrictions imposed on the registration of Omani (.om) domain names, but after I wrote this column I discovered that these restrictions are not completely arbitrary as the TRA has specified in the Omani Domain Name Regulations of 2012 a list of categories of prohibited domain names that may not be registered in Oman on technical, legal, moral, or social grounds. Even though this list has been around since 2012, I do not believe that it was actually enforced in the same way it is done now because I was able to register my domain name (riyadh.om) in 2015 without any issues. According to the Omani Domain Name Regulations, my domain name falls under a prohibited category because it also happens to be the name of a geographical location, and the registration of the names of capital cities is now not possible through any of the accredited registrars (such as Omantel). For example, amman.om, cairo.om, and doha.om are all unavailable for registration, not because someone has already registered them, but because they are restricted names. This can be verified using the .om WHOIS service.
Membership to the GCC has legal implications on all aspects of life and commerce in the Gulf – including intellectual property. Even though the GCC is not as deeply integrated as the EU, the GCC still has a body that issues a region-wide intellectual property right (the GCC Patent Office), has some intellectual property laws that apply across the entire region (e.g. the GCC Trade Mark Law), and has a legal instrument that recognises intellectual property as a fundamental right (the Gulf Declaration of Human Rights). With no solution to the crisis in sight, it is important to take a moment to consider what this crisis means for GCC intellectual property law and how it affects Qatari rights-holders.