Your browser is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.
Learn how to update your browser.
Access to our campus and services is currently modified due to the coronavirus public health crisis. For the latest updates on evolving COVID-19 policies and resources for our campus community, click here.

The Case of Patents in Islamic Law

Professor Tabrez Ebrahim

Understanding and developing patent law in a Muslim country is arguably one of the more complex and exciting challenges for any intellectual property scholar.

But this is precisely the challenge California Western’s Professor Tabrez Ebrahim has embarked on as he prepares to begin a research project that will advance the development of a patent office in Oman.

Ebrahim has been awarded a Leonardo da Vinci Fellowship Research Grant from the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, which is funding the project.

“I am extremely grateful to the Leonardo da Vinci Fellowship Research Grant Program for recognizing the importance of this project and enabling me to undertake the theoretical analysis and practical guidance,” says Ebrahim.

These highly competitive grants are a key component of The Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property’s mission to promote a balanced and rigorous scholarly discussion about intellectual property rights and their fundamental role in a successful and flourishing economy.

“At the present moment and over the next couple of decades, many Muslim majority countries are embarking on transformational innovation initiatives where patents are critically important,” says Ebrahim. “With that, while they have effectively developed and had in place patent laws that are near replicas of what exists in the United States and other western countries, they have not taken account that there are religious considerations and Islamic jurisprudential differences between Muslim countries. I will be theoretically and theologically analyzing those issues in this research project.”

Deliverables of the project will include an article concerning a theory to justify the role of patents based on fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), and an article concerning patent examination procedure and training guidance via collaboration with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) IP Attaché Program.

“The project also serves as a laboratory for patent law doctrine and theory through a comparative lens, as well as introduces perspectives from Islamic law to U.S. scholars,” says Ebrahim. “By providing new and fresh approaches to scholarly discussions about patent law and also fostering advancement of the mission of the USPTO IP Attaché, this research project will improve patent systems and help U.S. stakeholders internationally.”

Ebrahim first introduced his concepts earlier in the year, when he joined Brian L. Frye, Spears-Gilbert Associate Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky College of Law, on his Ipse Dixit podcast to discuss his draft article, “Intellectual Property Through a Non-Western Lens: The Case of Patents in Islamic Law.”

“My project in Oman serves as a timely follow up of my first paper in this research stream and it will provide a practical implementation of theory and normative considerations,” says Ebrahim. “As patents are poised to assume greater prominence in Oman’s economic development initiatives, the time is ripe for developing a richer theoretical foundation for the justifications of a patent office in Oman and for assessment of post-issuance procedures within Islamic law principles.”

Ebrahim asserts the need for Islamic jurisprudential considerations for a patent office in Oman adds complexity and new considerations in comparison to patent examination at the USPTO, as part of his development of patent examination procedure in Oman. The project will also assist USPTO’s IP Attaché staff in training government officials, attorneys, patent examiners, and judges on how a patent system can be administered in Oman. It will also provide public awareness of the importance of patents to Oman.

Subject to prevailing conditions, Ebrahim will conduct interviews with scholars, jurists, and theologians at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. On his return, he will combine the collective feedback to refine, finalize, and submit for publication a theory article.

For the remaining part of the research project, Ebrahim will develop the beginnings of patent examination procedure for Oman to provide greater clarity to inventors and innovators, and in parallel, send a survey specifically tied to patent examination in Oman to Islamic law scholars, jurists, and theologians identified during the earlier phase of the research project.

“My research grant expectations are law review articles and presentations to U.S. patent law scholars,” says Ebrahim.

“These outputs fill a gap in scholarship concerning the fiqh of patents, help to confirm my hypotheses concerning theories and address normative considerations of patents in Islamic law, while providing a compelling need for an evidenced-based advancement of an underdeveloped patent office,” adds Ebrahim.