The news has been dominated recently by the Houthi attacks from Yemen on cargo ships in the Red Sea. This has led to many of the world's biggest shipping companies to alter their routes and has caused disruption to global commerce.
Like many global news events, these can also have an impact on the world of IP. This is sometimes a niche impact indeed, but it's the niche in which we work.
The IP angle to this is that shipping routes for genuine and for counterfeit products may have changed. With ships deciding not to travel through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal (the quickest way to Europe from Asia) there will be delays in goods reaching Europe of three to four weeks.
These delays of genuine products may mean counterfeit products look to fulfil demand.
On the other hand, counterfeits may also need to be rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope too. Ships may then stop off at destinations that are new to them, potentially causing counterfeit goods to enter (new) markets in South Africa or West Africa.
Brand owners may need to realign anti-counterfeiting and customs enforcement strategies, although, ultimately, they may only be most concerned when products reach Europe. The Suez Canal was closed as recently as 2021 and brand owners may look back at strategies they adopted then, albeit that closure was for only six days.
In Yemen itself, the IP protection system is fragmented.
The ongoing civil war sees the country split into two. Without wanting to oversimplify a complex situation on the ground, the main division in the country – between the Houthis and the internationally recognised government – is split along the rough borders of the old countries of North Yemen and South Yemen. This is interesting for a Cold War kid like me.
The Houthis have control of the official capital, Sana’a, whereas the internationally recognised government is now operating from Aden (which was the capital of South Yemen).
Both factions are operating a Trade Marks Office and if protection is required across the entire Yemeni territory, two applications should currently be filed. The law is the same underlying law in both. Furthermore, old registrations issued in Sana’a can be renewed in Aden if the file is reconstituted.
Conversely, such registrations may not be renewable in Sana’a as the Trade Marks Office there has recently ex officio cancelled a number of registrations, particularly those owned by US businesses.
This may open up lacunae for trade mark squatters, but given the difficulties in operating in Yemen, commercially the territory will have fallen way down the list of priorities for many brand owners.
If there is a change in government in Sana’a, to one more pro-Western, this may see measures introduced to help “correct” any misappropriation of trade mark rights. Registration at the Aden Office would indicate a bona fide intention to protect trade marks in Yemen and may be the preferred way forward for brand owners looking to protect rights for the time being.
It’s the impact on the world of business that has ultimately moved this country to the top of the news agenda despite a long, ongoing civil war that has caused widespread human suffering. Let’s hope Yemen will transition to peace soon, and it will come on to our work schedules more often if brand owners can safely invest in the country and look to protect their trade marks there.