Saudi Arabia: A New Gateway For Intellectual Property in the Middle East?

One of the tallest towers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo via Unsplash.

By Saeed Khan

Think of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and intellectual property may not be within the top five images that come to mind. But the KSA is moving well beyond tropes of a desert monarchy known for its religious significance and traditional cultural norms. The KSA of the 21st century is undergoing tremendous change, emerging as a new center of synergy for international sporting events including Formula One Racing, WWE, golf and tennis. And the Kingdom is also an emerging epicenter in the area of IP; it is fast becoming a regional vanguard for intellectual property and the global fight against digital piracy. 

Theft doesn’t always happen with a pocket being picked or by a gun and a stickup note at the bank. The stealth nature of digital piracy requires a heightened level of vigilance and action. Thus far in 2021, KSA has shut down more than 378 websites that transmit football games, movies and series, as well as about 2.5 million items of tape material of illegal broadcast that violate IP rights.  KSA’s response affirms the existing void in combatting the pervasive nature of match streaming piracy, as highlighted by the victory in French courts by Qatari broadcast company, beIN Sports and others adversely impacted by the illicit practice. 

The fight to protect intellectual property requires setting up critical institutions. In 2018, the Saudi government established the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) to be the KSA’s competent authority for intellectual property. SAIP is considered a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all matters relating to the protection, regulation and enforcement of intellectual property rights in the Kingdom.

In the 21st century, Asia has certainly emerged as the hub of intellectual property production; 65% of IP applications filed worldwide have come from the continent, especially China, Korea, and Japan. But it would be a mistake to view Asian IP activity to be only based along the Pacific Rim. Saudi Arabia has positioned itself to be a regional hub, recognizing the truly global reach of IP and its legal and logistical requirements. Over 44 Korean employees currently work in the Kingdom’s IP sector, and more than 20 Saudi nationals are currently obtaining their Masters IP degrees in the US and UK.

The Saudis have made a hard push to get upto speed in its IP protection activities. SAIP has focused over the past two years to extend its collaboration with international IP Offices and International organizations as well to achieving a variety of strategic goals. It has signed 7 Memorandum of Cooperation with International IP Offices such as the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), as well as counterparts in China, Japan, the European Union, South Korea and the United Kingdom. SAIP also signed 2 Exchange of Data agreements and 4 Patent Prosecution Highway agreements with those offices to improve patent procurement quality and efficiency.

Since its accession to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1982, Saudi Arabia has attached increasing importance to intellectual property and has actively worked to achieve WIPO’s mission to promote innovation and creativity for the economic, social and cultural development of all countries. The Kingdom’s commitment to these objectives was on display last year when the Saudi Intellectual Property and the G20 Saudi Secretariat organized the IP20+ Global Intellectual Property Challenges Forum as part of the International Conferences Program, convening the heads of the heads of IP offices in G20 countries. Key action items included establishing priorities in response to global pandemics and emergencies, such as harmonizing IP operation measures, sharing IP policies and disseminating IP knowledge.

Membership has its benefits; and the 2020 Saudi convening was a critical engagement given that the G20 countries represent around 80% of the world’s economic output, two-thirds of global population and three-quarters of international trade, and around 96% of all patent filings, 91% of all trademark filings, 94% of worldwide design filings, and 73% of creative goods exports were from G20 countries. The KSA has invited the IP officials from the US and UK for an inspection tour of the Kingdom’s facilities in this effort.

While its mission is to promote the competitiveness of the national economy, supporting the growth of the intellectual property culture in Saudi Arabia, SAIP has the potential to be the main intellectual property center in the entire Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, given the Kingdom’s unique position, geographically and geopolitically. The KSA is the dominant member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a member of the G20 and a major influence in the Arab and Muslim world. These factors can enable SAIP to serve a large area and population, a welcome prospect in enhancing a balanced and effective global IP ecosystem.

This version updates an earlier version of this story with correct attribution.