COP 28 Insight: Munir Suboh Unpacks the IP Landscape

With Suzan Taha

Amidst heightened societal awareness of sustainability issues and the currently on going COP 28, LegalcommunityMENA had the opportunity to sit down with Munir Suboh, a seasoned intellectual property (IP) expert and partner at Taylor Wessing, to discuss the connection between intellectual property and environmental sustainability.

As the Head of Taylor Wessing’s Intellectual Property, Media, Trademark, and Technology practice in MENA, can you share your perspective on the intersection of intellectual property and environmental sustainability? Particularly in the context of the upcoming COP28?

Intellectual property (IP) law and its community focus on innovation, creativity, and the advancement of science and the modernization of society. This aligns naturally with sustainability goals, which are also in place to create a better world for future generations.

International treaties and conventions to regularize IP rights protection have been the driving force to promote and substantiate the protection of IP rights, such as the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, TRIPs and many others. Similarly, environmental sustainability and all efforts to support this cause are promoted and framed within international treaties, summits and conventions, such as the Paris Agreement and COPs (Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

Following the success of EXPO 2020, COP28 in the UAE presents an opportune event to further intertwine IP protection and sustainability efforts. Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C require collaborative efforts and innovative technologies. IP supports this by safeguarding IP owners’ rights, which lays a foundation to nurture creative ideas and technology. This symbiotic relationship enables the development and protection of innovative technologies that contribute to sustainability.

The UAE has embarked on a number of sustainability and environmental initiatives over the past few years. The recent announcement of a USD30bn climate-focused investment fund on the first day of COP28 is just one of many initiatives led by the UAE government in the last 20 years.

As the Co-Chair for the Middle East Global Advisory Council for the International Trademark Association (INTA), how do you see the role of intellectual property in supporting global initiatives such as COP28?

Many initiatives, such as task forces, working committees and public speeches, have been introduced by various organizations specializing in IP rights, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and INTA.

INTA, with its 150-year legacy of trademark protection, is actively working to leverage its global position to address new areas within the domain of IP; sustainability and environmental challenges are certainly among these areas. Through initiatives like “Brands for Better Societies” and “IP, Sustainability and Global Challenges”, INTA facilitates discussions, enabling experts to share objectives, strategies, and challenges in addressing sustainability-related issues.

INTA’s Global Advisory Council (GAC) MENA terms run for two years, bringing members from more than seven countries together to enhance advocacy, facilitate communication within the IP community and with related stakeholders, and address key issues impacting brand owners’ strategic concerns.

While brand owners and IP rights holders in the Middle East face numerous conflicting priorities, INTA’s Global Advisory Council (GAC) has recognized the need to address climate and sustainability concerns. A notable priority is counterfeiting, often overlooked when discussing environmental issues, which has adverse effects on the economy, public health, and safety.

Though action is currently being taken around sustainability challenges, leaders must intensify efforts in the future. Ongoing dialogues with upcoming GAC teams will likely prioritize studies, sustainability, and climate issues relevant to the region.

Being an Executive Board Member and Chair of the Communications Committee for the AIPPI UAE, how does the AIPPI contribute to raising awareness about intellectual property rights in the UAE and the wider Middle East?

Effective communication is vital for raising awareness about key issues. The AIPPI, another leading international organization in the field of IP, has historically focused on areas that relate to patents, inventions and protection of innovative steps among other areas.

The AIPPI hosts an annual “World Congress Meeting” where members from all around the world gather to discuss hot topics in IP. This year, the AIPPI World Congress was held in Istanbul, an intersection of Asia and Europe and a neighbor of the Middle East.

The annual event provides a platform for global leaders to discuss and vote on resolutions based on study questions from national groups, for example in 2022 there was a study question on the use and protection of trademarks on the internet and social media. Sustainability and IP intersect in these discussions, and we expect in the coming years the AIPPI may want to address study questions leading to resolutions that advocate for legislative improvements globally, aligning with IP and sustainability goals.

With your expertise in advising media, broadcasting, and technology companies on IP and brand-related matters, how can these industries actively contribute to environmental sustainability, aligning with the goals of COP28?

Media is a powerful tool for creating awareness and influencing mindsets on important issues. Coverage of COP28 will be crucial in communicating clear and accurate information about sustainability initiatives.

The conference will have multiple events that will attract media coverage, such as summits, co-ordination meetings, youth forums and dialogues, mitigation sessions, presidency events, and technical advice panels. The media will have a lot of content to cover, and efforts should be made to ensure that reasonable and clear content, news and reports are communicated to the public. Keynotes speakers, including experts, business owners and politicians have already discussed and addressed sustainability requirements and made some major announcements. We are optimistic that there will be widespread media coverage of COP28 to keep the public informed on updates and pledges as the conference progresses.

Could you elaborate on the importance of brand protection and ways to handle enforcement for companies in the UAE in line with the objectives of COP28?

There have been a number of existing enforcement measures in the UAE that have demonstrated law enforcement authority strategies, namely those of the Dubai Customs IPR division which focus on the enforcement of trademark rights.

For example, Dubai Customs used to deal with a large number of customs cases that related to shipments of counterfeit products. Dubai Customs, in co-ordination with the Dubai Municipality, pushed to adopt alternative measures and solutions to deal with such products in a more environmentally friendly way.

After extensive joint efforts, the authority adopted measures to accept the recycling of counterfeit consignments as an environmentally friendly solution to dealing with goods seized at borders and/or in free zones under the control of the Dubai Customs Authority. The initiative not only resolved a crucial issue concerning counterfeit shipments, but also helped introduce recycling as an official remedy to handling such goods.

The acceptance of recycling as a solution aligns with the UAE’s emphasis on sustainability and public safety, and efforts have continued since and been expanded to cover other enforcement authorities onshore and at border-level in the UAE.

You’ve been described as a “well-rounded lawyer” with a focus on legal knowledge. How can legal professionals contribute to shaping policies that promote sustainability and environmental responsibility? In your role overseeing critical tasks related to trademark portfolios, how can businesses leverage their intellectual property to drive sustainable practices and contribute to COP28 objectives?

Legal professionals play a pivotal role in shaping policies that promote sustainability. IP professionals should continue to lead innovation in the industry and bring new solutions and ways of working that assist with environmental, sustainability and ultimately COP28 objectives.

Mitigating risks, reducing environmental impacts and spreading awareness on the serious danger of neglecting sustainability measures should always be considered and addressed by IP and legal professionals. Everyone should engage in changing policies and attitudes, whether it’s corporations or individuals, to help the current and next generation to have a safer and healthier environment and future.

As trademarks represent goodwill and create impressions to the public about the source of products or services, it is time for brands, whether well-known or newly developed ones, to think of ways to associate their reputation with community safety, sustainability and building a safer climate and environment. Many brand owners have adopted this approach, and it’s helped set them apart from other competitors. Brand owners can be the driving force to change communities and build better societies around the world.

About Munir Suboh

Suboh is a distinguished legal professional at the forefront of intellectual property (IP), media, and technology law in the Middle East. With over a decade of experience, he’s a recognized expert, fluent in both Arabic and English.

Since 2006, Suboh has been instrumental in landmark cases and projects, ranging from copyright claims to cutting-edge fields like gaming, web3, and AI. He serves as a go-to legal advisor for a leading Media Group in the Middle East, contributing significantly to the industry’s growth and compliance. Suboh’s educational background, including an LLM in IP and technology from the USA, coupled with his extensive practice, positions him as a key influencer in shaping the legal landscape.

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