DR. ABDULAZIZ M. ALSWAILEM

Saudi Arabia 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Abdulaziz M. AlSwailem, CEO of Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP), about the effects of COVID-19 on operations, the global nature of Intellectual Property, and increasing the Kingdom's intangible assets.

How has the unification of the organization progressed over the last year?

One of the main milestones that we progressed after 30 months of operating as a unified Intellectual Property Authority is that, by royal decree, SAIP will be linked organizationally to the Prime Minister and His Excellency Minister of State Mr. Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh will chair SAIP board of Directors. This is significant, as few IP offices have linked to the Prime Minister. Saudi Arabia believes that IP should be fully supported and independent, that is why the royal decree has been issued. In addition, SAIP recently finalized the national strategy of IP, which was submitted through the Council of Ministers. We are now waiting for the final approval of this strategy as one of our main mandates. On the international side, we have launched IP20+, which refers to the IP offices operating at the G20. It includes more than 27 IP offices as well as international and regional organizations such as World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Health Organization (WHO), European Patent Office, Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the patent Office of GCC to discuss global challenges related to IP. Globally, SAIP has also signed number of cooperation programs with International IP offices in order to internationalize our office. We established fast-track examination and a collaborative search program with the Korean IP Office to provide cited documents in order to facilitate the examination of patent applications. We also initiated a cooperation program that allowed experts from universities to provide search reports for patent applications. The number of patent applications received in 2020 is (3,295) and the number of granted patents is 589. We expected a reduction from 2019 due to the pandemic, but it is only 1% less than the last year. When it comes to trademarks, we have received 35,779 trademark applications and have registered 13,659 trademarks. We have added certain quality layers to ensure that the outcome of our trademark examination meets international standards. When SAIP was established, there were five international treaties and today the total number of treaties is 12 international. We have significantly improved our relations with other key global entities, which has made us a stronger authority on IP domestically and internationally.

In what ways did COVID-19 shift your operations and strategy especially related to digitalization?

The pandemic pushed us to use digital platforms. Throughout the pandemic, we shifted to working from home and increased our channels to communicate with clients and rights holders to ensure they could reach us whenever they want. We communicated with the main law firms to ensure they could reach us as well and provided them with direct contacts for the officers dedicated to each office. We also invested more in our IT system and expect to see the first profits of this new generation of new SAIP IT system throughout 2021. This will be a complete shift.

Have you seen any pandemic specific innovations that have been registered with the office?

We have seen many registered innovations such as Tawakkalna, a national application that grants people permission to travel under lockdown during pandemic. There is a new application called Eatmarna and others that were developed in response to the pandemic that have also been registered with SAIP. We have the right platforms at SAIP, and we tried to utilize the opportunity presented by the pandemic to allow people to innovate and learn. In this spirit, we increased the number of training programs at SAIP linked to international organizations by 540% in the first six months of 2020. Saudi Arabia was ranked number 10 internationally in terms of using WIPO platform for IP training programs It is not only SAIP employees who are training but people all over the country as well. We have signed an agreement with different universities and research centers to increase our technology and innovation support centers. This will bring entities together and increase innovation.

Are there any advancements in the area of intellectual property that have evolved in recent years?

Laws and regulations in Saudi Arabia are one of the main issues in the Vision 2030 reform program. The World Bank's doing business report classified Saudi Arabia and its economy as showing the largest improvement in doing business at a global level, thanks in large part to a series of legal reforms. SAIP is part of this movement and has participated in the process of legal reforms. We have started with the copyright protection law, which is now in the final stage of approval. We have also issued the regulations of optional registration of copyright works to help in documenting the works, and to enhance confidence in the transactions. We are also drafting the protection of geographical indications law, which is a new field of IP to be started in Saudi Arabia, and we are in the pursuing the proceeding of approval. We are revising the Law of Patents, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, and Industrial Designs. We also issued a Regulation on IP Practitioners and began to train and license them. The IP issue is a global one. We need to ensure we are aligned with international practices, which is why we started to increase the number of international treaties to ensure we follow international standards and give us more access to databases and activities related to IP. Saudi Arabia now chairs and co-chairs about 15% of the WIPO Committees, and this only happened in 2020. This is one of the main achievements in 2020. We signed different agreements with five major offices: Korean Intellectual Property Office, US Patent and Trademark Office, the China National Intellectual Property Administration, the Japan Patent Office, and the European Patent Office. Recently, we signed an MoU with the UK Intellectual Property office and the European Intellectual Property office. The main idea is to strengthen Saudi Arabia and SAIP via these MoUs to ensure we have the proper exchange of information, access to data, training, and human capital activities. All these will help to increase the final outcome of our role, which is the quality of our work. In addition, SAIP has announced the possibility of registering family names as trademarks. These were all huge advancements in 2020.

What made the shift in strategy for intellectual property cases to be heard by the commercial court happen?

It is part of the Kingdom's work to develop the judiciary and reduce the quasi-judicial committees. All cases related to applications for intellectual property laws will be considered by the commercial court, instead of administrative court “Board of Grievances." This contributes to achieving fairness for intellectual property cases. We have also started to train judges in the field of IP in cooperation with the world Intellectual Property Organization as a part of promoting IP in the Kingdom.

Will the pandemic spur greater innovation or change the way innovation is done in the long term?

There was a shift in the way we innovate and our mindset about innovation. In the past, people used to look at innovation in terms of the number of IPs registered. The pandemic has since made a great shift in terms of quality and the impact of innovation. Now, it is not about how many IPs we get but how many IP we utilize. Such a shift will increase impact and will be reflected in different societies. The number of applications may be less than before, but the quality and impact of applications are higher. This has a significant impact on our society, and it will be a milestone even in our national strategy of IP to ensure a higher quality of innovations. This will increase Saudi Arabia's intangible assets. The goal is to see more innovative SMEs with higher impact and intangible assets.