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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

With a transcontinental location in Africa and Asia, and a considerable proximity to Europe, Egypt occupies an unrivaled and an increasingly significant regional role in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt holds the record for being the most populous country in the region with over 94 million inhabitants. More than half of Egypt’s residents are located in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centers of Cairo, Alexandria, and other major cities across the fertile Nile.

Egypt boasts one of the largest and most diversified economies in the MENA, and its economy is expected to continue growing at an accelerated pace in the coming years. Local industries include textile production, food processing, tourism, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hydrocarbons, construction, and light manufactures. Egyptian exports include crude oil and petroleum products, cotton, textiles, metal products, and chemicals. On the other hand, imports include machinery, foodstuffs, chemicals, and fuels. The annual GDP growth averaged 3.8 percent over the past year and the GDP is $1.105 trillion, while the GDP per capita is $12,100. Furthermore, the GDP composition by sector of origin is 11.3 percent for agriculture, 35.8 percent for industry, and 52.9 percent for services.

Egypt maintains a relatively comprehensive regulatory and legislative system for the protection of trademarks, patents, designs, copyright, trade secrets, and unfair competition. In addition, Egypt is a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Berne Convention, Madrid Agreement (Source), Nairobi Treaty, Paris Convention, Phonograms Convention, Trademark Law Treaty, Hague Agreement, Madrid Agreement (Marks), Madrid Protocol, Patent Cooperation Treaty, Nice Agreement, and Strasbourg Agreement.

In recent years, the authorities concerned have been increasingly more involved in the enforcement of intellectual property rights through the issuing of new statutes for combating counterfeit products and through the establishment of the Economical Court, a specialized court that primarily handles all IP matters. Furthermore, in an effort to combat the illicit importation goods into the country, Egyptian authorities decreed a new set regulations that entered into force in March 2016, which stipulate that certain imported goods will not legally enter into the Egyptian market unless the merchandise is authorized by the General Organization for Export and Import Control (GOEIC). In order to obtain authorization, importers are required to record the name of the manufacturer, as well as the corresponding trademark registration of the imported products at the GOEIC. It goes without saying that this comes as a necessary step to ensure that the imported goods are not counterfeits.

On the trademarks front, Egypt follows the 10th edition of the Nice classification and a single application may not include several classes. Trademark examination is done on formal, absolute, and relative grounds and oppositions may be filed after 60 days from publication date. The protection term for a trademark is 10 years from filing date and is renewable for like periods. As for use, trademarks are vulnerable to a cancellation action by any interested party if there has been no effective use of the mark for a period of five consecutive years preceding date of filing for cancellation.

As for patents, the Egyptian Patent Office has been operating as an International Search Authority (ISA) and an International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA) since April 2013. With the increase in number of patent offices in the Arabic speaking countries acting as receiving offices, the Egyptian Patent Office is often selected for search and examination. There are two main reasons for this: 1) applications may be filed in Arabic only; and 2) the related fees are much more accessible to the local applicants.

The Egyptian Patent Office has capitalized on this status by acting as the examining authority for the Omani Patent Office, pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding executed between these two parties in September 2014. In addition, inventors filing international applications using the Omani, Egyptian, Saudi, or Qatari patent offices as receiving offices can designate the Egyptian Patent Office as the ISA.

Foreign patent applications may be filed claiming 12 month Convention priority or entered as national stage via PCT within 30 months from the earliest claimed priority. The Egyptian Patent Office does not allow for restoration of rights under any circumstance in case of a missed deadline—not even under PCT Rule 49.6. Once allowed, the application is published upon grant in the Official Gazette and oppositions may be filed within three months from the publication date.

In line with expected PCT Rules, patents are protected for a period of 20 years, minus one day, from the international filing date. Annuities are due annually on the anniversary of the international filing date (minus one day) and payable as of nationalization of the application in Egypt. A one year grace period is observed for late payment along with a surcharge.

In short, the protection of IP assets in Egypt is a challenging and labor intensive process that requires special consideration and handling. Needless to say, rights holders should seek sound advice before they decide on the best route to arrive at well-established protection strategy.

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