Primark case has an effect on brand UAE

Knock-off brands, like the fake Primark store in Dubai, steal the hard work of others and mislead consumers. In a nation where shopping is crucial to the economy, that's a problem.

China has a reputation as a global knock-off capital for everything under the sun. So too does the Philippines. And in Nepal, backstreets are filled with tiny shops and hidden stalls selling "Southface" parkas and "Rollex" watches.

Dubai is supposed to offer a different experience. Luxury brands and experiences draw shoppers from around the world. Authenticity should never be in doubt.

This week's revelations that a well-known European brand of clothing stores, Primark, is being ripped off in the emirate should be a call to action. There are a host of legal and practical reasons for stern enforcement, not the least of which is the need to protect the emirate's reputation as a place for retail quality.

Trademark specialists say the Primark case is the exception, not the rule. "An oddity," is how one local lawyer puts it. But as we report in our Business pages today, another fake retailer also in Bur Dubai - Winners, a Canadian discount fashion chain - has been operating for over a decade. Two oddities surfacing in less than a week suggests there are gaps in the enforcement and application of trademark law in the UAE that counterfeiters are exploiting.

These local knock-offs are treading on thin ice. Lawyers say that it is illegal to operate in the UAE under an unregistered trademark, and it is not always clear which international brands have registered in the UAE. Either way, strong local laws can protect against blatant hijacking. If a "Burger Queen" restaurant opened in Manhattan selling a "Whipper" and hot cherry pies, it would only be a matter of time before lawsuits were filed and the doors closed.

The UAE is party to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which was signed in 1996, but it is not a party to the more streamlined Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks. Protecting international reputations, and guarding against counterfeiters, means signing up to these international standards.

Knock-off brands steal the hard work of others and deliberately mislead consumers. In a nation where shopping is crucial to the economy, anything that detracts from that experience also hurts the UAE.

Published: April 27, 2012 04:00 AM