If you’re based in the UAE, the answer to the above question is probably not.

Why is copyright important?

If a company has invested significant time and money in the creation of designs for a particular project then it will want ownership rights in relation to those designs. Copyright provides some protection against third parties copying your designs.

Copyright becomes particularly important in the event of a dispute where one of the parties to a construction project may try to move on and to take your valuable designs with them. If you do not own the copyright in those designs then you will not be able to prevent others from using them on other projects.

Who owns the copyright in the designs?

Provided that the designs are original, then the owner of copyright in those designs will be the person who created them. This sounds fair enough. But, unlike other jurisdictions such as the UK, UAE law does not provide that the copyright in works created during the course of employment will vest in the employer. This means that the individual employees involved in the creation of the designs will own the copyright in those designs and not the employer.

You may now be thinking that this isn’t a problem for you because your employees’ employment contracts contain the usual standard clause assigning all intellectual property created during the course of employment to you as the employer. Well, unfortunately under UAE law there is a further problem.

The UAE Copyright Law states that a copyright owner cannot assign copyright in more than five future works. The threshold for when copyright attaches to a work is low – a simple email or sketch on a piece of paper will likely be a copyrighted work.

Therefore, even if your employment contracts contain a clause assigning intellectual property, the effect of such an assignment may be minimal. As soon as the employee has created five pieces of work, which he or she may do within hours of beginning work, then the assignment provision is no longer effective and the employee will own the copyright in all further future works.

What can you do?

The first step is check your employees’ employment contracts to ensure there is that provision in there which assigns all intellectual property in work created by them during their employment to you. The “five future works” law is yet to be tested in the courts and there remains a chance an assignment provision will be upheld beyond that limitation.

Secondly, we recommend that all construction companies operating in the UAE regularly require employees involved in the creation of potentially valuable works to which copyright attaches to make a written assignment to them of the copyright in all works that the employee has already created. There are no limitations in the UAE Copyright Law on the assignment of the copyright in works that have already been created.

The position in the UAE is not ideal and reflects the fact that at the moment intellectual property protection here is less well developed than in other jurisdictions . However, if you know about the problem, there are steps you can take to solve it.

By Brett Sherrard and Melanie Grimmitt

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