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Your intellect, your property
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 06 - 2007

Egypt's patent law attracts foreign investments. Gamal Essam El-Din reports
In a press conference at the American Embassy to Cairo on 19 June, US Commerce Department officials highly praised Egypt's efforts to reform the business environment. Darren Pogoda, attorney and advisor of the office of enforcement at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) said: "the communications and information technology sector in Egypt is currently enjoying a great growth: 20-25 per cent annually." Pogoda said protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) can contribute to business growth in general and communications and information technology in particular. "Income from the lawful use of patented and copyrighted material can contribute greatly to the GDP of a country," said Pogoda.
Pogoda, launching USPTO's Intellectual Property and You book in the American Embassy, said Egypt has made notable strides in intellectual property protection since joining the WTO in 1995. According to USPTO's Book Two, the Egyptian law on the protection of intellectual property rights (Law 82/2002), covers all IP subject-matter including copyrights. "The law accords a wide copyright coverage to all original creations including computer programmes, because software is regarded as a form of literary work," the book's chapter concerning Egypt read. The book praised Egypt's IPR law as allowing for the confiscation and destruction of pirated goods. "The law imposes severe penalties against offenders including fines or imprisonment and repeat infringements incur harsher penalties," the book hailed.
Pogoda said the book received support from US President George W Bush's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Intellectual Property and You, published in both English and Arabic for the first time, describes the different types of IPR, what each protects and the state of IP protection in Arab countries.
For his part, Mohamed Omran, executive chairman of Egypt's Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), said ITIDA is the brainchild of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and reflects its great interest in boosting information technology (IT) investments in Egypt and creating a strong IPR regime necessary for these investments. "ITIDA reflects a strong partnership between the government and the private sector for creating a strong IT industry in Egypt," said Omran.
According to Omran, since the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) came into being in 1999, the creation of a strong IPR regime has been its top priority. "From the beginning," said Omran, "we were aware that the development of a strong IT industry in Egypt could never be possible without creating a strong IPR regime." To meet this objective, Omran explained, the government moved on more than one front. The first one, Omran said, was the promulgation of an effective and concise IPR law in 2002. "This law primarily aimed at reducing piracy rates and as a result ITIDA was able to bring piracy rates down to 52 per cent in 2007 from more than 90 per cent in 2002," said Omran.
On another front, Omran revealed, ITIDA concluded several agreements with several IT multinational companies, such as Microsoft, to provide school students with computers (within the framework of the government's A Computer for Every Student programme) and hundreds of patented and copyrighted software. "This step highly contributed to checking piracy rates," said Omran.
On the third front, ITIDA embarked on implementing a large- scale training programme in the area of IPR application. "These training programmes are aimed at enabling ITIDA employees to keep abreast of the latest developments in IPR protection regimes," said Omran. He revealed that ITIDA concluded a cooperation agreement with USPTO, according to which the employees of the former receive advanced IPR training in the United States.
Egypt's IPR law came into effect at the end of November 2006. "At that date," said Omran, "ITIDA formed a consultancy committee aimed at enforcing the IPR law and solving all the problems which might stand in the way of its enforcement," said Omran. The next period will see coordination between the ITIDA and the Ministry of Justice and its Prosecution Department to help curb violations of IPR law. "In this respect, ITIDA provided prosecutors with detailed reports about the IPR market in Egypt and all the other technicalities in this area to help them check fraud and piracy acts," said Omran, boasting that this coordination enabled the confiscate of more than 5,000 pirated copies of software programmes.
ITIDA took the initiative to reduce licence fees required for registeration of IT trademarks and products. "This was a big incentive for IT companies to comply with the law and boost the market," said Omran.
The creation of a strong IPR protection regime in some countries, primarily India, has dramatically helped in boosting IT investments. "The bulk of world IT investments is expected to reach $600 million and we know that without having a strong IPR protection regime like the one in India we will not be able to attract even a fraction of this huge amount into Egypt," said Omran.
The creation of an IPR protection regime in Egypt has always been a contentious issue on the agenda of Egyptian-American trade relations. For many years, American investors were critictical of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) between Egypt and the US because Egypt did not respect the IPRs of American companies, especially in the pharmaceutical sector. At the same time, Egypt complained that the copyrights of its music and movie products were frequently violated the US, Australia and Canadian markets. Responding to a question by Al-Ahram Weekly about this issue, Pogoda said the US highly values the role of a strong IPR protection system in creating a safe and predictable environment in which free economies can grow and develop. "In fact," said Pogoda, "George Washington signed the first patent law back in 1790 and over the past 200 years we have seen how IPR protection allowed the flow of ideas to the public and spurred innovation, and my guess is that with successful business people contributing to the economy, Egypt should share the same beliefs."
Pogoda said the US is concerned with the protection of the IPRs of its companies not only in Egypt but in such countries as Mexico and Canada, the US's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, as well. A major item on the agenda of negotiations leading to the signing of a FTA between the US and other countries is the existence of strong IPR protection regimes. "This is quite important for Egypt and other countries in order to make sure that these free trade agreements are of big benefit to the two sides," said Pogoda.


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