5. Protection of Property Rights
The Dominican Constitution guarantees the right to own private property and provides that the state shall promote the acquisition of property, especially titled real property, however, a patchwork history of land titling systems and sometimes violent political change has complicated land titling in the Dominican Republic. By law, all land must be registered, and that which is not registered is considered state land. There are no restrictions or specific regulations on foreigners or non-resident owners of land.
In 2008, the country transitioned to a new system based on GPS coordinates and has been working towards establishing clear titles, but, in March 2021, an industry source estimated that only 25 percent of all land titles were clear. The government advises that investors are ultimately responsible for due diligence and recommends partnering with experienced attorneys to ensure that all documentation, ranging from title searches to surveys, have been properly verified and processed.
Land tenure insecurity has been fueled by government land expropriations, institutional weaknesses, lack of effective law enforcement, and local community support for land invasions and squatting. Political expediency, corruption, and fraud have all been cited as practices that have complicated the issuance of titles or respect for the rights of existing title holders. Moreover, while on the decline, long-standing titling practices, such as issuing provisional titles that are never completed or providing titles to land to multiple owners without requiring individualization of parcels, have created ambiguity in property rights and undermined the reliability of existing records.
The Dominican Republic’s rank for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business” report improved from 77 to 74 (out of 190 countries). Registering property in the Dominican Republic requires 6 steps, an average of 33 days, and payment of 3.4 percent of the land value as a registration fee. In the last decade, the Dominican government received a $10-million, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan to modernize its property title registration process, address deficiencies and gaps in the land administration system, and strengthen land tenure security. The project involved digitization of land records, decentralization of registries, establishment of a fund to compensate people for title errors, separation of the legal and administrative functions within the agency, and redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of judges and courts.
Mortgages and liens do exist in the Dominican Republic. The Title Registry Office maintains the system for recording titles, as well as a complementary registry of third-party rights, such as mortgages, liens, easements, and encumbrances. Property owners maintain ownership of legally purchased property whether unoccupied or occupied by squatters, however, it can be difficult and costly to enforce private rights against squatters. This may in part be due to a provision in the law known as “adverse possession,” which allows squatters to acquire legal ownership of land without a title (thereby state-owned).
Intellectual Property Rights
The Dominican Republic has strong intellectual property rights (IPR) laws and is meeting its IP obligations under international agreements such as the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Nevertheless, weak institutions and limited enforcement can present challenges for investors. Under the Abinader administration, the country’s posture toward the protection and enforcement of IPR appears to have improved. Still, illicit and counterfeit goods, as well as online and signal piracy, are common and continue to present challenges for authorities. In the Dominican Republic, illicit or counterfeit goods include the full gamut of fashion apparel and accessories, electronics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, cigarettes, and alcohol.
Several IP authorities in the Dominican Republic grant intellectual property rights. The National Office of Industrial Property (ONAPI) issues trademarks and patents, the National Copyright Office (ONDA) issues copyrights, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MISPAS) issues sanitary registrations required for marketing foods, pharmaceuticals, and health products, and the Directorate of International Trade (DICOEX) has jurisdiction over the implementation of geographical indications. IPR registration processes have improved in recent years, but delays and questionable adjudication decisions are still common. These institutions are in the process of implementing electronic filing systems to streamline procedures, however.
IPR Enforcement is carried out by the Customs Authority (DGA), the National Police, the National Copyright Office (ONDA), the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications (Indotel), the Special Office of the Attorney General for Matters of Health, and the Special Office of the Attorney General for High Tech Crimes. Although the Dominican government has taken steps that appear to indicate a strengthened posture and commitment to IP enforcement, in practice, the country faced challenges in 2020 that contributed to a net decrease in counterfeit seizures, arrests, and convictions. The government attributed much of this decrease to the pandemic and ensuing safety measures, which hampered enforcement activities for much of the year.
Although the Dominican Republic did not enact any new IP-related laws or regulations in the past year, the Office of the Attorney General launched a new IP Unit in November 2020. This unit plans not only to pursue more IP cases but also to develop an interagency mechanism uniting all the institutions involved in IP prevention and prosecution. As a result, these institutions are expected to collaborate more in enforcement activities and in capacity building efforts. For example, in February 2021, the new IP Unit partnered with ONAPI and ONDA to launch an IP training academy for prosecutors and judges to improve the country’s judicial capacity.
Since 2003, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has designated the Dominican Republic as a Special 301 Watch List country for serious IPR deficiencies. The country, however, is not listed in USTR”s Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.