World Intellectual Property Day: IP Law in Oman

There is no law that protects something as poetic as the subject matter protected by intellectual property laws: the human genius. Trade mark law, patent law, and copyright revolve around sophisticated subjects such as distinctness, novelty, and originality as they attempt to protect society’s greatest innovations. From medicines that cure our bodily ailments and spacecraft that explore the galaxy, to music that treats our souls and novels that transport us across both time and space.

Oman’s first intellectual property law was the Trade Mark and Trade Data Law of 1987. This law granted basic protection for marks that are capable of distinguishing goods and services of one merchant from another. Trade mark protection is the oldest form of intellectual property protection in the world, and its significance has serious implications on consumer protection and fair competition, especially when we realise that it is the key guarantee that the medicines we buy actually come from the manufacturers identified on their packages.

In 1993, the Omani government started applying the GCC Patent System allowing inventors in Oman to obtain patent protection for inventions that are novel, involve an inventive step, and are capable of industrial application. The GCC Patent System is a unique protection system that automatically extends the protection of successful patent applications throughout the whole GCC, in a manner somewhat similar to EU patent protection.

A major milestone in Oman’s intellectual property regime took place in 1996 when Oman joined the World Intellectual Property Organisation and consequently issued a completely brand new suite of intellectual property laws that covered a national patent system and a new trade mark law, as well as Oman’s first Copyright Law of 1996, completing the creation of a comprehensive intellectual property regime. Oman’s copyright law automatically protected all original literary, artistic, and scientific works without the need for registration for the lifetime of their authors plus 50 years after their death.

Since then, Oman had not one, but two, major overhauls of its entire intellectual property system—the first was part of Oman’s membership to the WTO around the year 2000, and the second was part of Oman’s free trade deal with the United States of America between the years 2006 and 2008, which resulted in making Oman’s intellectual property regime arguably the most comprehensive in the entire Arab World in terms of scope and duration. The Omani legal system today protects copyright, performers’ rights, broadcasters’ rights, the rights of the producers of phonograms, patents, utility models, industrial design, trade marks, geographical indicators, trade secrets, topographical layouts, plant varieties, and others. In addition to the protection granted under standard intellectual property legislation, the legal system in Oman also criminalises intellectual property infringement under the Cybercrime Law.

In 2021, Sultan Haitham promulgated a new Basic Statute of the State, which recognised for the first time the protection of intellectual property as a duty of the state, escalating the status of intellectual property rights to a constitutional right recognised by the most supreme legal instrument in the country.

Intellectual property is now a highly publicised subject in Omani official media with a dedicated office for intellectual property in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion; there are regular intellectual property capacity building programmes for government staff independently run by the government or in collaboration with international organisations; intellectual property is a subject taught at university; there is an Omani intellectual property civil society association, and suing for intellectual property infringement in Omani courts is no longer something rare.

The state shall be committed to protecting intellectual property of all forms and in all disciplines in accordance with the law.

The Basic Statute of the State 2021, Royal Decree 6/2021 (issued 11 January 2021, published 12 January 2021) OG Annex 1374, art 38.

The existence of intellectual property rights is useful for the sustainability of many creative industries, and the fact that Oman has all these laws contributes to enabling such creative industries to emerge and thrive. However, I find it worrying how the Omani legal system continues to expand the scope of the protection of intellectual property without recognising the need for a balance to exist between the rights of those who need to copy in order to learn and the rights of creators of existing works. Stronger and longer protection is not always better for creators, especially when we realise that creators need to have access to existing works as building blocks for future ones. The protection of rights such as copyright law in Oman is much longer than in our neighbours, to the detriment of Omani creators who would like to translate and build upon works whose authors have died decades and decades ago. The Omani law also does not provide sufficient exceptions to permit creative works such as parodies, remixes, and covers, which technically makes the work of the majority of Omani YouTubers illegal in Oman, even though the same acts are legal in the US because of the fair use principle, which is found there, and not in our legal system.

Oman should certainly be commended for introducing all these intellectual property laws, but we also need to think of how we can make sure that these laws do not restrict the ability of our own people to learn and to create.