Building IP awareness in Jordan – challenges and opportunities
By Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO
Over the past decade, Jordan has undergone major reforms in support of a more open and market-oriented economy. In the process it has overhauled its intellectual property (IP) laws and has made IP awareness a priority. Zain Al Awamleh, Director of the Industrial Property Protection Directorate of the Ministry of Trade and Supply of Jordan, shares her views on the challenges and opportunities associated with raising IP awareness in Jordan and the Arab region.
Why is building respect for IP a priority for Jordan?
In Jordan we say “changing laws takes time but changing a culture takes generations.” We want to embed the concept of IP in the country’s cultural development so that a generation of young people emerges that is full of enthusiasm about the huge potential that IP has to drive technological progress and economic development.
To what extent do you have problems with piracy and counterfeiting?
Thankfully, counterfeiting and piracy activities in Jordan are relatively well contained. Most IP infringement is in the area of copyright in the form of pirated CDs and DVDs. This is largely due to weaknesses in the national copyright infrastructure, enforcement of the laws and general lack of public awareness about IP and the consequences of IP theft. Many are unaware of the impact of their actions on creators. That said, the rate of software piracy is expected to drop in 2016 due to the intensified efforts of the National Library Department.
In many countries in the region, counterfeiting and piracy are taboo subjects, but we have broken that silence, which I believe is part of the solution.
What is the Directorate’s role?
The Industrial Property Protection Directorate oversees all matters relating to the registration and protection of IP rights in Jordan in line with existing legislation. IP rights – patents, trademarks, industrial designs and integrated circuits – protect creativity and human invention and ensure a favorable environment for investment in industry and other commercial activities. These rights play a critical role in supporting national economic development and wealth creation. The Directorate plays a major role in setting IP policy and promoting innovation and creativity in Jordan. It also supervises the publication of patent information and provides access to IP databases. While IP enforcement is not part of the Directorate’s remit, it is responsible for developing an IP culture and increasing IP awareness across the country.
In recent years the Directorate’s operations have expanded and its reputation as a provider of quality services has grown. We are now starting to expand our service offering, placing greater emphasis on IP education and awareness activities in collaboration with private sector partners. The Directorate has enhanced the quality and range of information available on its website and is also supporting the establishment of Technology and Innovation Service Centers (TISCs) (see p. 34) in the region. It also runs a range of training programs, including for judges and other law enforcement agents, to boost understanding of IP within Jordan’s business community and the judiciary. The opportunity to exchange ideas, experience and practice through these initiatives is helping to strengthen the IP system in Jordan and the region. The overriding aim in developing these activities is to showcase the Directorate as a provider of high-quality IP services and to reassure investors that Jordan is committed to a robust IP system.
We have made steady progress in creating the conditions for future generations to be able to harness their huge innovative and creative potential. There is still much to do but these really are very exciting times.
Can you tell us about some specific ways you have boosted IP awareness in Jordan?
Recognizing the importance of promoting IP awareness across the region, in 2013 the League of Arab States, with WIPO, produced a short animated cartoon called “Intellectual Property – Protection for You and for Me.” This light-hearted animation highlights the importance of respecting IP rights and some of the negative consequences of not doing so.
When we viewed the cartoon – it was first screened at WIPO’s Advisory Committee for Enforcement – we saw an opportunity to bring a new focus to our outreach activities by actually measuring the cartoon’s impact in terms of changing perceptions about IP. In the past, such outreach was ad hoc and lacked any meaningful impact assessment. The methodology we used to assess the cartoon’s impact had a strong focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) and enabled us to challenge the status quo and to start changing the mindset of policymakers. This was one of the key successes of the project.
We prepared a questionnaire targeting businesses, the public, young people and judges. This created an opportunity to introduce IP as well as WIPO and its work to the Jordanian public, and for people to talk freely about their concerns and needs. The feedback we received was invaluable and is helping to improve the quality of our promotional IP tools and activities. A staggering 90 percent of replies underlined the need for more IP awareness activities. In light of this, we are already planning various new IP outreach initiatives. For example, we are exploring ways to introduce IP into school and university curricula so that young people understand the huge potential that IP has to promote economic, social and cultural development. We believe the shortest way to solve a problem is to face it. And that is what we are doing.
The response has been very positive. The cartoon is now featured on Ministry’s website and we are working with the Chamber of Commerce to develop a Jordanian version – using local actors and Jordanian slang – which we plan to release in 2017.
In addition to this, we are actively working, with WIPO’s support, to encourage more active use of IP rights by Jordan’s business community. The Directorate has also widely distributed to businesses, public authorities and schools, an Arabic version of a range of WIPO publications and guides on the practical use of IP rights.
The Directorate also actively participates in science fairs in schools to promote IP among school children.
Going forward, the focus is on generating tangible results and taking full advantage of the resources that are being made available to us. So we really need to be innovative and to think out of the box. That is the only way we are going to make a difference. To achieve that, we need to develop a concrete framework of activities with related KPIs. These enable us to remain faithful to our goals and to identify and tackle any unforeseen problems. This is a concept we want to encourage across all government agencies, and that is why we are working with WIPO to develop a national IP strategy. We will be one of the first countries in the region to have such a strategy, and building respect for IP will be an important part of it. This will help us to further strengthen Jordan’s IP landscape.
There are many creative ways to improve the IP system and build respect for IP within the Arab region. The more opportunities we have to exchange ideas and experience with others, the greater the chances of bringing about positive and lasting change. Generally speaking, we need more relevant and compelling awareness materials – an Arab version of WIPO’s Case Book on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, for example, would help to strengthen judicial decisions in the region – and information targeting specific audiences, especially policymakers. We absolutely need to bring policymakers on board with IP because they are the people who can lead the changes that we need to see.
What is your relationship with the League of Arab States and why is it important?
We have a good a relationship with the League of Arab States (LAS) and we support it in any way we can. LAS has a key role to play in encouraging greater cooperation among countries in the region. Building respect for IP is a shared responsibility. No one country can achieve it alone, but if we share information and combine efforts, we can make a difference. While everyone generally agrees on the importance of IP, there are many opinions about how to build respect for it. That is why events such as the regional workshop on building respect for IP organized by LAS in Cairo in 2015, which for the first time brought together the heads of national IP and copyright offices, right holders and law enforcement officials in Arab countries are so important. I was privileged to be a keynote speaker at that event and to present Jordan’s experience in building respect for IP, our work in evaluating the impact of the LAS cartoon and other IP awareness materials in Jordan.
Close cooperation among countries will enable us to strengthen our respective national IP systems. Another example of this is the work of the Agadir group – comprising Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco – which has successfully established the ArabPat platform to facilitate the production, publication and exchange of patent documents by patent offices in the region. We are delighted that Saudi Arabia has recently joined the platform. Our aim is to bring more Arab countries on board. These types of practical approaches will make a huge difference to the IP landscape in the Arab region, and LAS has a leading role to play in bringing about such changes.
What challenges and opportunities are you facing?
Making politicians and policymakers aware of the importance of IP is one of our biggest challenges. We are also seeking greater financial independence so that the Directorate becomes a self-sustaining, independent IP office. This would enable us to be more flexible, responsive and efficient in our operations. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified IP talent with practical experience is also a challenge, given the attractive salaries offered by the private sector.
IP is a vast and fast-moving arena and it can be a challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the field. Language is another challenge. IP information is often not available in Arabic. If we are to succeed in encouraging greater collaboration across the region and a better understanding of IP, we need more IP-related materials available in a language that is understood by the general public. Many IP officials in the region struggle with English (in which most IP materials are available), and even if they understand what is being said, they are often unable to communicate effectively in that language. These are the kinds of challenges we face, but when it comes to opportunities – the sky is the limit.
What is your key message with respect to building respect for IP?
We need to join forces to tackle counterfeiting and piracy because this illegal trade causes far-reaching economic damage. It undermines legitimate businesses and the long-term interests of young people. Those who trade in fake goods are abusing the IP rights of inventors and creators and working against the public good. But if IP rights are respected then we all stand to benefit.
I encourage businesses in Jordan to recognize the value of their IP assets and protect them more actively. By working together with the business community, we will be more effective in increasing understanding among local companies about how IP can create value and support business development.
It is also important that we make the public aware of the negative consequences and dangers of buying fake products. These products can maim and even kill. All too often consumers are lured by a good deal and disregard the quality of the product they are buying. We need to encourage consumers to focus on the quality of the goods they buy, not just the price, and to help them understand that buying counterfeit or pirated products can have far-reaching consequences – it is not a victimless crime.
While we have made some progress, there is still a great need for more IP awareness, capacity-building and legislative advice in the region.
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