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Cyberspace is No Place to Hide: Online Anti-Counterfeiting Measures in Saudi Arabia
March 1, 2021
With Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s largest exporter of petroleum and a relentless commitment to promote a robust economic diversification program, the desert nation is a market of strategic and economic importance for international brand owners to consider when enforcing their rights. In an effort to combat such malicious practices by unscrupulous individuals on the Internet, Saudi Arabia introduced Maroof in 2016, an online platform that was developed by the Ministry of Commerce to enhance the shopping experience of online users and to combat the sale of counterfeit products within the kingdom’s borders.
Through an online web portal and an app for smartphones, Maroof allows shoppers to access a secure database and search for local online stores conveniently and securely shop with confidence. Maroof also includes a section that allows customers to publically share their experiences, as well as review and rate vendors, on the platform for others to view. By allowing consumers to rate their transactions with merchants and the quality of the goods they purchase online, Maroof aims to create a reliable database that can be accessed and reviewed by customers, merchants, and even the local authorities concerned should any complaints or issues arise. The service provided by Maroof is free of charge and does not require any commercial registration. This, in practice, makes it more accessible for legitimate users to ensure compliance and identify and seize any counterfeit or infringing products that might be harmful.
Additionally, online vendors who choose to include their commercial registration are awarded a golden certificate that is included on their profiles—a status that is comparable to receiving a verified badge on popular social media platforms, such as the blue verified badge near usernames on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Ultimately, the goal of Maroof is to reduce the permeation of fake goods being sold online and to protect the rights of consumers and brand owners.
With regards to the unlawful use of trademarks in domain names and websites, a brand owner has the option to launch proceedings to restrain the use of a mark in domain names, hyperlinks, meta-tags, and online ads and on websites. The brand owner has the option to initiate an administrative action before the Anti-Commercial Fraud Department (ACFD) at the Ministry of Commerce which launched a special department that tackles such types of infringement. Also, the brand owner has the option to resort to the commercial court and file an infringement action as well. Brand owners also have the option to file an action with the Saudi Arabia Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), which has the jurisdiction to hear all disputes relating to “.sa” domains.
By way of background, the CITC is facilitating the growth and localization of the information technology (IT) sector in Kingdom as part of Saudi Vision 2030. By 2023, the CITC aims to increase the IT and emerging tech market size, by further regulating and licensing these technologies, and driving global investment in Saudi Arabia.
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