United Arab Emirates

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The UAE government allows individual emirates to decide on the form in which ownership of land may be transferred within its borders.  Generally, Abu Dhabi has limited ownership to Emirati or other GCC citizens, who may then lease the land to foreigners. The property reverts back to the owner at the conclusion of the lease.  Although Dubai has identified restricted areas within its borders, traditional freeholds, also known as outright ownership, are also available. Subject to very few regulations, freehold owners own the land and may sell it on the open market.  The contract rights of lienholders, as well as ownership rights of freeholders, are generally respected and enforced throughout the UAE, which in some cases has employed specialized courts for this purpose.

Mortgages and liens are permitted, with restrictions.  Each emirate has its own system of record-keeping. In Dubai, for example, the system is centralized within the Dubai Land Department, and is considered extremely reliable.  Land not otherwise allocated or owned is the property of the emirate, and may be disposed of at the will of its ruler, who generally consults with his advisors prior to disposition.

The World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report notes that not all privately-held land plots in the economy are formally registered in an immovable property registry.  Much of the country is unregistered desert; such land is generally owned by emirate-specific governments. The UAE does not have a securitization process for lending purposes.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property rights (IPR) holders face four main challenges in the UAE: the trade of counterfeit goods, unpredictable pharmaceutical patent protection, the absence of a collective management organization (CMO) for royalty payments for copyrighted music, and burdensome trademark fees.  While some UAE enforcement authorities periodically seize and destroy counterfeit goods within UAE, concerns related to the re-exportation of seized goods, significant copyright piracy, and trademark infringement persist. UAE police forces and investigators have generally been responsive when policing against pirated CDs, DVDs, and software, however the failure to grant the necessary operating license to establish a CMO, which is allowed under the UAE’s 2002 Copyright Law and Ministerial Decision No. 133 of 2004, is a major obstacle to adequate enforcement of IPR.

The 2018-2019 Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum ranked the UAE 26th globally on IPR protection, down from 21 in 2017-2018, with the UAE ranking second regionally after Oman.  The UAE’s legal framework for IPR is generally considered compliant with international obligations.  Emirate-level authorities such as economic development authorities, police forces, and customs authorities enforce IPR-related issues, while federal authorities manage IPR policy.  However, many of these laws are inconsistently implemented or enforced at federal and emirate-levels, criminal sentences are often non-deterrent, and enforcement actions require specific written complaints from right holders.

In April 2017, UAE officials allowed domestic manufacture of generic versions of a pharmaceutical product still under patent protection in the United States.  The UAE claimed that Decree no. 404, a measure providing reliable protection for pharmaceutical products with valid country of origin patents, is no longer valid.  It is also unclear whether the UAE courts will consistently recognize patents granted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Patent Office.

Concerns also exist over the high trademark filing fees in UAE.  The fees are the highest in the world and considered cost-prohibitive for protecting trademarks locally.

Dubai Police announced a total of 264 counterfeit cases and six copyright cases in 2018, comparable to 212 trademark violation and 11 copyright cases in 2017.  Enforcement authorities in the UAE’s northern emirates also conducted inspection campaigns during 2018. Many counterfeit products in the UAE are now promoted via social media, so the UAE Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) has also been active in tracking and blocking these accounts.  In 2018, TRA banned 152 websites for IPR violations, compared to 167 in 2017.

The UAE did not enact any new laws related to IP protection in 2018.  The UAE was included in both the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) 2019 Special 301 Report (https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2019_Special_301_Report.pdf ) and the 2018 Notorious Markets List (https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2018_Notorious_Markets_List.pdf ).  The latter mentions two physical marketplaces in the UAE, with both locations cited as important markets for local purchasers and as gateways to distribute Chinese-sourced counterfeit goods to other markets in the region, North Africa, and Europe.

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