Nipped in the bud - Iraq's new intellectual property laws

Iraq's revised intellectual property laws have stifled any chance of escaping US control, reports Rob Ray.

Submitted by Freedom on February 16, 2006

The trademark and patent offices in Baghdad reopened soon after the invasion on 19th September 2003. Since then they have been working primarily with Iraq's original pre-invasion system, but some major changes have been introduced as part of the occupation's time as the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The changes were part of a more radical overhaul of Iraq Intellectual Property (IP) law by Abu Ghazaleh Intellectual Property (AGIP), the largest IP company in every one of the 22 Arab states and commissioned by the CPA.

General orders, such as an amendment to article 7.5 of Iraq's IP law, bind Iraq to international agreements, effectively barring Iraqis from using inventions discovered previously in any country covered by WTO or Paris Convention agreements.

This affects all new technologies, from improvements to fuel and refining technologies, through to drugs and medical equipment. It's not good news.

One likely outcome of the measure for example will be to further curtail the dependence of Iraq's oil sector on western controllers, as new pumping and refining equipment, leased from and maintained by big oil, becomes an integral part of Iraq's economic survival during the construction phases.

The amendments reintroduce the concept of employer rights, currently well established in Western countries, where anything invented in the course of a person's employment belongs to the company.

This means any improvement to the refining process by someone hired to take care of the refinery systems by the company that built the plant will be automatically held and controlled by the company.

Section 50 has been added to give foreigners equal rights to take out a patent as Iraqis, thus making the process of patenting new inventions substantially easier for multinationals.

More famously Order 81 (section 52-79 on the original 2004 order by Paul Bremer), which has been introduced onto the statute books and is now being weighted alongside the stipulations of Iraq's original 1970 laws, prohibits the use of new seeds in the previously unregulated Iraqi agricultural sector (see inset).

Whilst allowing the use of traditional seed stock, the order effectively prohibits the production of next-generation seed unless it is bought from a multinational. Ownership of biological patents was barred under the Saddam Hussein regime.

AGIP, the company which drew up the new laws on behalf of the CPA, is based in Jordan and is headed by founder and chief executive, Talal Abu Ghazaleh.

Abu Ghazaleh is one of the most influential Middle-eastern faces at the UN, having held several high-profile positions in the past dealing with IP law in general and the expansion of the field into online technologies in particular over the past 30 years. He said: "We received a written request to draft the IP laws for [the US administration]. We draft laws for the country so whoever is authorised to give those laws, I work with.

"Of the companies of the Fortune 500 [a business list of America's most powerful transnationals] we work with 400. We now work with 30,000 clients globally. We set up a data bank of all business and produced the only IP dictionary in the region. What gives us an edge is we are the biggest law firm in the region and we protect our clients' rights."

Asked about the possible conflict of interest regarding his company’s heavy involvement with major world conglomerates and that same company's involvement with drafting Iraq’s IP law, he said: "These laws are what the international community wants.

"The interests of all our clients are as one. They want protection for their companies and litigation, which works. We have a conflict of interest clause to prevent it [corruption].

"We work with international organisations, and have an agreement with the EU trademarks office. I am currently trying to make a similar agreement with Washington.

"I am a great believer that the international IP organisation is not intended to serve as a protectionist regime. It is not intended solely for the owners of these rights and their monopoly of the product, it is for better economic development. It is a stimulant for a wealth of technology. I have a great belief in the inventiveness of the Arab mind."

Sixteen Arab countries have had their IP laws drafted by AGIP, including the United Arab Emirates and Oman. But there have been heavy criticisms of the group’s handling of Iraq’s IP law.

Focus on the Global South, a campaigning group against the actions of the CPA, said: "Iraq is a special case in that the adoption of the patent law was not part of negotiations between sovereign countries. Nor did a sovereign law-making body enact it as reflecting the will of the Iraqi people.

"In Iraq, the patent law is just one more component in the comprehensive and radical transformation of the occupied country's economy along neo-liberal lines by the occupying powers. This transformation would entail not just the adoption of favoured laws but also the establishment of institutions that are most conducive to a free market regime."

Order 81
Order, 81 states, "Farmers shall be prohibited from reusing seeds of protected varieties." In amongst the other comprehensive measures curtailing Iraq's right to its own production sources, Order 81 gives companies the right to own any seed that is not of traditional stock.

This should not be a problem in the short term. Farmers would still be able to farm as they had done in the past, though increasingly they would fall behind the production techniques of agribusiness, should it choose to product-dump in the country. It would only be in the long term that sustainability problems would rise, in theory, due to the US-imposed rules.

Although they would eventually only be able to keep up by buying terminator seeds from companies such as Novartis and Monsanto, the transition would be a more gradual one overall.

But thanks mostly to the occupation, the problem is actually a great more immediate. Iraq's stores of seed and grain were destroyed in the fighting. The UN are currently concerned that the seed stocks are so low that there won't be enough to supply more than four per cent of requirements for the coming year.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that $5.4bn would be needed to replace the seed stock or face a possible humanitarian disaster.

This two years after it was reported that Iraq, against all the odds, had a "stable and functioning" seed system in 2003 and with outlawed seed ownership.

And the original location for the seed banks, before it was bombed, cleared and reused? A location regarded as so important it has wheat strains named after it? Abu Ghraib.


Rob Ray

7 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Rob Ray on November 16, 2016

Ten years on it turns out that, other than war and water-related problems, domestic Iraqi agriculture is being priced out by Western dumping: