Get Off My (Intellectual) Property: A Few Things to Know About Egypt's Intellectual Property Law
It’s a crying shame to let your creativity go unprotected, so why not learn a bit more about keeping your creations safe?
“Are you guys running out of material to write about?” No, Mahmoud, that never happens. We live in a country where information about the law (and your rights) is as vague as what goes into that five pound hawawshi at the guy behind our office. So for a burgeoning creative in any of today’s artistic fields, getting proper legal shielding for their work is kind of a task, to say the very least.
We’re sure some of you are well aware what kind of defence the law can offer for your creative works, but for the grand majority of Egypt’s innovative masses, these few simple definitions and services lie in hiding. So, with the help of the lawmen and women of Eldib & Co - who have 100 of intellectual property experience in the MENA region- we’ve decided to give you a basic (and not-too-technical) rundown of the things you need to learn in order to properly care for your potential intellectual property (IP).
Disclaimer: Though this may be more suited to those of you who are more on the creative side of things, if you are somebody who wants to bring their own creations – regardless of background – into this world (and this country), these few simple tidbits are worth a good, long look. Do not let your hard work go to waste because of misinformation and a few bureaucratic hurdles; stick with us and we’ll make this much less painful. All info is in accordance with Law No 82 of 2002 on the protection of intellectual property rights.
What’s an IP again?
Pictured: Totally legitimate intellectual property
Literally anything that pops out of your mind and enters the real world. Whether it’s your proprietary Ma7sh-O-Matic 9000 self-operating Ma7shi assembly device, a jingle you came up with for your favourite brand of socks, or even a legit schematic for industrial machinery, it’s considered an intellectual property.
With an intellectual property tag slapped onto your stuff, and the adequate protective measures that come with the term, you can keep your media, magic and machinery (somewhat) forever in your name, reaping the benefits and revenues that come with them, and most significantly, keeping them out of other people’s grubby little mitts. It’s basically anti-piracy protection, except a lot scarier than a banner on a torrent site.
What Kind of Protection?
According to a certain Mohamed Eldib – a partner and member of the Egyptian Bar Association, the INTA, AEPPI and many other big league acronyms – it’s a necessity for anybody who cares about their intellectual works. “Intellectual property protection, for all intents and purposes, splits into a few distinct subsets; Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, Industrial designs and Trade Secrets. Each type of intellectual property has its own applications and rules, and are necessary for any proper protective action.” With all that in mind, what kind of armour does intellectual property protection have to offer?
”A logo, design, phrase or really anything that an individual or a business uses to distinguish themselves falls under the umbrella of a trademark – which pertains to goods and services.” Eloquently put by Mr. Eldib, trademarks basically set you apart from everybody else, usually denoted by a TM at the end of whatever it is you’re trying to keep. Technically. With proper registration through a respected firm and your trademark authority, you basically lay exclusive claim over your creative entity, keeping it safe from would-be pirates and have actually solid footing when you go toe-to-toe with folks who abuse your goods without proper permission and payment. In essence, a trademark is your property’s “identity” of sorts.
A disaster waiting to happen
“Any original intellectual works, be they literary, musical, artistic, software-related or even a specific design is eligible for copyright protection. It’s basically what keeps your intellectual property yours.” Fun thing about copyrights is that they last quite a bit; if you apply for one, it stays with you for life – your life – after you (unfortunately) kick the bucket, it remains yours for another 70 years, after which it enters public domain. You obviously want this for whatever it is you put into this world if you hope to reap any benefits – both tangible and intangible – out of it. That means money friendo.
A famous example of copyright infringement (besides the above) would have to be the 'Big Pimpin' Jay Z versus the nephew of the late composer of 'Khosara Khosara'. Seeing as the late great Abdel-Halim Hafez was the one to sing it, it's almost ingrained in each and every Egyptians' memory. Jay didn't exactly ask anybody about using the iconic backing track to his 1999 hit 'Big Pimpin', so he just kind of went on anyway until just a few weeks ago. The nephew had a lawsuit against Jay-Z for copyright infringement (remember: this is an audible piece of IP), but eventually lost because of the incredible power of a good lawyer. There's also the whole "inalienable moral right" thing that Egyptian copyright law isn't too keen on, but a good fight it was regardless. Simply because Jay-Z thought the song fell under public domain - meaning anybody could use it - he almost (not really) got into a lot of financially hot water. All he had to do was pay the owner of the song's rights their dues - much like Timbaland did with the same song in 2000 - to avoid any more mishaps past a legal notice, but nope; it had to happen for this example to suffice.
A patent pertains to inventions (mostly the industrial variety) that offer an “inventive step” over something currently in use, or is just generally new and funky. Industrial Designs pertain to the overall look, feel and shape of the invention in question. Every iconic piece of machinery out there has its own unique look that sets it apart, and that’s up for protection too. Think of it this way; a patent is a sandwich’s filling, whereas an industrial design is the overall shape of the sandwich regardless of what’s in it. Patents typically only last about 20 years, after which, they enter the public domain; basically up for grabs by anybody at this point.
What could have been...
Trade Secrets, Trade Dresses and Geographical Indications also fall under the ever-dry umbrella of intellectual property protection, but unless you have a super-secret fried chicken recipe, have a specific aesthetic for said chicken and claim that it comes from a special geographical territory, they’re not for you.
What am I Supposed to Do?
Get out there and register your stuff, friendo. As Mohamed puts it “without going through the proper legal channels for your works, you basically miss out on all the potentially massive benefits that may hold. I as well as my associates end up taking harsh legal actions against entire companies and factories due to infringement and counterfeiting.” You can definitely pursue your own intellectual property legalities unassisted, but that means having to go in and out of places like the picture below for 12 to 24 months if you’re looking at a trademark.
For those of you interested in the devil's details, the process can for filing a trademark in Egypt can serve as a good example. First of all, you'll need a legal power of attorney; meaning you need a good lawyer, preferably well-versed in intellectual property law (and isn't ungodly expensive). You'll also need literally any and all paperwork associated with your company or group or whatever - whether it's legal registration or what classes you want your trademark to fill - translated into Arabic. Remember; there are a total of 45 classes of goods and services that a trademark can fall under - 35 of which for goods, and 10 for services. Make about ten copies of each cause god knows you'll need them.
Then you'll need to file all of it to your local Egyptian Trademarks Office, to be examined by a bunch of legal people. You might need to amend your trademark in case they look sideways at it, and if it isn't done within six months, that's your case up in smoke. Examination takes about eight months (weeeeee), and you'll be making trips back and forth to make sure that it's all going as smoothly as it can go. After those eight months, it's entirely possible for your application to get rejected for any reason the folks over there decide. If not, it goes to publication and registration. The end bit is simple and usually takes about 4 to 6 months - a meager time to wait in Egypt. Factor in a hell of a lot of transportation fees, monetary incentives and cigarettes for your patience to stay level, and you have yourself a trademark.
So much for my designer line of cat purses
Yeah. Not exactly fun. Egypt’s trademark offices aren’t the most efficient or high-tech of places, and you’ll have to basically camp out there most days (without much proper notification), spending tips left and right to make sure your paperwork doesn’t get lost and so many more hurdles if you want to see your work get its just desserts. Considering how many beautiful upcoming talents we have here in Om El Donia, it’s a crying shame to see it ripped off without folks getting their dues. If you’re serious about your work (and you should be), you should go the extra mile for it.
Alternatively, instead of wading through the cesspit that is Egyptian bureaucracy, you could have much more experienced folks handle it all for you. There are numerous agencies that cater to intellectual property law around the country, but none of them can boast over 100 years of experience in the field as the justices at Eldib & Co do. They typically have more pull with the trademark offices and various governmental establishments of Egypt, so they'll naturally have the ability to "cut in line" in a way. Registration time isn't exactly open for adjustment; if it'll take 12 years, it'll take 12 years. But instead of having to run back and forth to see it all through, why not let them send an experienced attaché to sort it all out for you, and have their numerous teams in various departments crack through all the red tape for you so that the word "rejection" stays out of the dictionary.
To find out more about Eldib & Co, as well as get in contact with people who can tell you exactly what you need to keep your goodies in check, head to their website for the full rundown of all their services.