Intellectual Property Rights And Copyright Law: Here’s What We Know

March 27, 2024


This article first appeared in March’s print edition of Business Monthly.

Robust frameworks to protect innovators’ ideas have a “vital role in growing the economies of developed and developing countries,” said a report from the International Chamber of Commerce, an industry body. It “spurs innovation [by] giving large and small firms a range of tools to help drive their success.”

Egypt has long underperformed in that respect. The country’s rank in the International Property Rights Index decreased from 70 (of 129 nations) in the 2022 report to 88 (of 125 nations) in 2023. It also performed poorly in MENA, ranking 11 out of 15 last year.

Those low scores harm innovation. The 2023 Global Innovation Index ranked Egypt 83 out of 132 surveyed nations. The country ranked 15 out of 18 in MENA and 11 out of 37 in “lower-middle-income group economies.”

To improve those global and regional rankings, the government launched a five-year intellectual property strategy in September 2022, promising “legislative and institutional advancement.”

Protection law

Egypt’s 2002 intellectual property rights (IPR) law was born out of necessity, not to enable an existing national innovation strategy. The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) said It brought “Egypt’s legal IPR regime in line with its obligations under the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.” Its 205 articles superseded existing intellectual property laws.

The 2002 law used older regulations to define various IPR types and set violation penalties. For “patents and industry designs,” current law uses a definition passed in 1949 and amended in 2000 to include “provisions on data exclusivity and exclusive marketing rights.” It allows “patent protection for 20 years from the date of application.” Industrial designs get five years of protection and can be renewed for two similar periods.

For “trademarks,” the 2002 law uses the legal definition from 1939. It provides the holder with 10 years of protection in line with the Trademark Law Treaty published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The trademark holder can renew it “indefinitely for similar periods,” GAFI said. “Renewal is not automatic, and the procedure for renewals is the same as … initial registration.” Meanwhile, the violation fee remains EGP 20,000 (less than $645 at the current official exchange rate).

“Copyrights” are defined under the 1954 law that protects architectural designs, speeches, theater productions, photographs, music, cinematography, and television and radio programs. A 1992 amendment included 50 to 70 years of protection for books, sound recordings, and computer programs. Violation penalties could reach EGP 10,000 (about $322 at the current official exchange rate).

Egypt’s IPR protection frameworks allow international patents to be registered domestically, given that the country is a signatory on the Paris Convention, Madrid Convention of 1954 and Berne Convention of 1886.

Missing from the 2002 law are protections for innovations in the digital economy. The government needs to address that omission quickly since ICT is the fastest-growing sector in Egypt, growing by over 16% last year.

An undated University of Cambridge paper said digital innovation IP laws need to address “protecting and exploiting the value of [online] data.” They also need to ensure that technological innovation protection covers all potential sectors affected by that technology.

Digital-economy IP laws also need to facilitate cross-sector use of patented technologies “given the complex and fragmented patent landscape of the digital economy,” with IP ownership distributed across many firms. The university paper also noted those IP laws must be sophisticated enough to ensure “free” digital content attribution remains and users don’t sell them to third parties.

Protection strategy

In September 2022, the government announced the National Intellectual Property Strategy (NIPS), the “first step of its kind in [IPR protection] in Egypt,” the strategy document said. “It is intended to serve as a cornerstone and a solid basis for the establishment of the IP system in Egypt.” It will expire in September 2027.

The strategy is “consistent with the [2015] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Intellectual Property Organization Development Agenda, Egypt’s Vision 2030 and the structural reform program for the Egyptian economy.”

The NIPS document said it has “strong integration” with WIPO’s Agenda for Development and its Green Platform, and Egypt’s National Climate Change Strategy 2025.

Its core concept is to strike “a fine balance … between the rights of IP owners … and the general rights of the society. That is mostly important with respect to public interest purposes, especially the issues of the availability of medical supplies, food, education, access to knowledge and technology transfer.”

Implementation would require creating “specialized” and “administrative” authorities. It also needs to collaborate with “unions, federations, and chambers of industry and commerce, the private sector and the media.”

Its “strategic goal” is “governance of the institutional structure of IP.” That includes digitizing registration filings and other procedures, upskilling government workers, and ensuring government enforcement of the IP law.

The second is “configuring the legislative environment for IP,” which starts with “short-term interventions” until the IP authority conducts a “comprehensive review” of legislation in the “medium term.”

The strategy also focuses on “optimizing economic returns from IP,” especially inventions that align with the SDGs and raise awareness of the importance of IP protection.

First step: the authority

In August, the government announced the creation of the Egyptian Authority for Intellectual Property (EAIP). Its goals are “organizing, sponsoring and protecting intellectual property in Egypt, and operating the IP system,” said Hamad Abdallah, a senior legal consultant for Rouse, a UK-based IP advisory firm. It “operates the IP system by maintaining balance between protection of IP rights; achieving sustainable economic, social, cultural, and technological development; and building a knowledge economy.”

A note from Soliman, Hashish & Partners, a local law firm, said the EAIP “replaces [all IP-related activity regulated by 2002’s law in] the ministries [of] higher education and scientific research, supply and internal trade, culture, ICT, agriculture and land reclamation, and trade and industry.”

EAIP will also take IPR protection responsibilities from the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Internal Trade Development Authority, Supreme Council for Media Regulation, Patent Office and Plant Variety Protection Office.

The NIPS document added the EAIP will also take over relevant IP offices and bodies and be responsible for “coordinating and cooperating with all … ministries and bodies concerned with the implementation .. of this strategy.”

EAIP employees are those transferred from the replaced government bodies. The authority will set its own key performance indicators and publish them. It will also submit semiannual progress reports to its board of trustees and the Cabinet. Meanwhile, versions of those reports will be available to the public.

A lot is riding on creating a legally tight IP framework in Egypt. The NIPS document said robust legislation would allow the government to monitor and react to “continued piracy” involving Egyptian artistic and literary outputs abroad, increasing gaps between digital technology in Egypt and advanced economies and brain drain.