By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: The United States Embassy in Kuwait organized on Monday a reception on the occasion of removing Kuwait from the US intellectual property watchlist, where Kuwaiti and US officials stressed the importance of the move and its impact on attracting foreign direct investment. In a press statement, Peter Mehravari, US intellectual property (IP) attaché for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), said removing Kuwait from the US watchlist is a great starting point for expanding commercial opportunities for US companies in Kuwait.

"Kuwait has been on the list since 1997. The copyright law was the issue that kept the country on the watchlist for years. We worked with the Director of the National Library of Kuwait Sheikha Rasha Al-Sabah and the copyright office, and within two years, we drafted a new law based on what Kuwait needed and international obligations, which helped Kuwait to be lifted from the list," he said.

Mehravari noted that when Kuwait was removed from the priority list to the watchlist in 2020, many US companies asked about the new situation of the country and showed their interest. He affirmed that things are changing in Kuwait, and the ministry of commerce is now more active in following up complaints submitted on its online portals regarding trademark and copyright violations.

Motivation for innovators

"Intellectual property rights motivate innovators such as engineers, artists and designers to develop and design new products and modern technologies for the market, while reassuring them that their intellectual rights will be protected. Removing the name of Kuwait from the list gives a guarantee to foreign companies wishing to enter the Kuwaiti market. This is reflected in the performance of the Kuwaiti economy in general," he said.

Mehravari praised the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the General Administration of Customs in the inspection and control of markets and goods coming from abroad through the various ports of Kuwait, in addition to fruitful cooperation over the past years.

"We are glad to hear that Kuwait has been lifted from the watchlist after being on it for 25 years," Sheikha Rasha said, praising the efforts by Mehravari in cooperating and developing the new law to remove Kuwait from the list. "The National Library of Kuwait has a special section specialized in copyright protection. It participates in the annual World Intellectual Property Day on April 26. Any writer or interested person can visit us at the library to learn about the basics of intellectual protection for the author, which we will protect for 50 years. We provide this service for free," she said.

Sheikha Rasha noted that Kuwait enjoys a flexible legal environment to preserve intellectual rights. "We balance between the author's rights and the right of society to benefit from information. I consider Kuwait as a role model, as during the pandemic the library shifted online, where most books were digitized, as the pandemic prevented people from coming to the library," she added.

Counterfeit goods

Osama Al-Shami, head of the intellectual property rights office at General Administration of Customs, said the administration's efforts resulted in seizing large quantities of counterfeit goods before they entered the Kuwaiti market, which resulted in removing the country from the list. Shami explained cooperation with the US side came through joint control systems, where the Kuwaiti inspectors develop their skills by participating in workshops and forums. "A new curriculum on copyright was added for new inspectors. The curriculum discusses details to create a new system to inspect target containers," he said. Shami indicated that the customs is the first line of defense for intellectual property rights, so goods are monitored upon their arrival in Kuwait and samples are taken from suspicious shipments for analysis.

Assistant Undersecretary for the Commercial Control and Consumer Protection Sector at the Ministry of Commerce Eid Al-Rashidi said the ministry, in cooperation with other government agencies, has made great efforts in monitoring the markets and violations of intellectual property rights and trademark infringement, which had a great impact in removing Kuwait from the list.

Rashidi pointed out that Kuwait has increased the level of cooperation with the US side over the past years, which come within the framework of signed and existing agreements to develop trade and investment relations between both countries, stressing the ministry's readiness to deal with any changes or new methods used in violating copyright.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced its decision not to list Kuwait in the 2022 Special 301 Report as a result of its continued and significant progress on concerns that stakeholders identified with intellectual property enforcement and transparency.