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How religion influences trademark applications in Libya

Libya lies along the southern edge of the Mediterranean in North Africa and is the fourth largest Arab nation in the world. It has a population of almost 7 million people, 97% of whom are Sunni Muslims. Sharia is the main source of law in all Islamic states. It is derived from the Qur’an and the traditions (Sunnah) of the Prophet Mohammad by religious scholars (the ulema) who have been trained in one or more schools of Islamic jurisprudence. In line with Sharia practice, each Islamic country has its own IP laws. The principles of morality, modesty and prohibition encompassed in Sharia influence the registration and enforcement of IP rights. Certain goods and services that may seem commonplace to brand owners and consumers are forbidden and therefore trademarks related to them are not registrable in Libya. Libyan trademark law prohibits the registration of certain categories of trademarks, including those seen as “violating public morals or public order” (Article 5(b)) or those that are “identical or similar to symbols constituting a pure religious nature” (Article 5(e)). In practice, this means that trademarks referencing banned substances are regularly refused (eg, pork products in Class 29 and alcoholic beverages in Classes 32 and 33). In addition, trademarks that incorporate non-Islamic religious symbols, such as the Christian cross or Christmas-related goods (eg, Christmas trees in Class 28) are also refused. If the mark lacks any requirement as provided in the law and its implementing regulations, the application may be rejected by the examiner. The applicant may appeal the rejection of its application to a commission appointed for that purpose within 30 days of the date of receiving the relevant official notification. The steps and rough timeframe for filing a trademark application are as follows: filing to examination – 10 to 12 months; examinaton to publication – 12 months); opposition period – three months from the publication date); and granting of the trademark.  Libya presents brand owners with significant opportunities and potential challenges. If the fundamentals of Libyan culture – particularly that of Sharia – are adhered to then the trademark can be accepted. However, since legal grounds for refusal are not particularly clear under the Trademarks Law (40/1956), there may be a rise in appeals from applicants who file marks for the abovementioned classes of goods, especially with regards to Articles 5(b) and (e). A specific rule must be added to confirm these goods as an absolute ground for refusal of trademark registration.   This is a co-published article, which was originally published in the World Trademark Review (WTR).

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