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Norton Rose Fulbright bolsters Riyadh office with new partner

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright today announced that Zayd Alathari, an intellectual property lawyer with experience in the Middle East and the US, has joined its Riyadh office as a partner.

Alathari joins the Mohammed Al-Ghamdi Law Firm in association with Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP from Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), where he led the company’s IP initiatives as its Senior Manager & IP Counsel in the Middle East and Africa.

In eight years at SABIC, Alathari led a team that supported SABIC’s Middle East and Africa manufacturing teams and the company’s global technology & innovation teams for the chemical, agri-nutrients and metal business in the US, Europe, Middle East, China and India. Alathari also helped develop and implement SABIC’s global IP strategies and policies, and he provided legal and IP advice and contract support to protect and enhance the value of the company’s technology.

Additionally, Alathari and his team drafted and negotiated a wide range of technology agreements; prepared and prosecuted patent applications; managed and maintained patent portfolios; conducted due diligence; and handled freedom to operate (FTO) opinions.

Before his in-house career in Saudi Arabia, Alathari practiced at Venable LLP in Washington, DC. As an associate and registered patent attorney, he advised US-based and international clients on IP litigation, transaction and patent prosecution matters.

Tim Kenny, Norton Rose Fulbright’s Global Head of Intellectual Property, said: “Zayd possesses a broad range of IP experience with more than two decades split between a multinational corporation and a large law firm. When combined with Norton Rose Fulbright’s global platform, Zayd’s versatility and perspective will benefit our clients and their businesses worldwide.”

Mohammed Al-Ghamdi, Partner-in-Charge of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Riyadh office, commented: “Zayd is an accomplished leader who excelled in managing SABIC’s comprehensive intellectual property portfolio. He is well connected to major corporations in Saudi Arabia and respected throughout the Middle East.”

Alathari, who is also a member of the Gulf Petrochemical and Chemical Association’s (GPCA) research and innovation committee, said: “Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic growth and diversification efforts are transforming the region as it heavily invests in technology, digitalisation, localisation, data protection and management, and a circular economy. Strong IP rights are critical to protecting these initiatives, and Norton Rose Fulbright’s global presence will help my clients realise and commercialise their maximum potential.”

Alathari earned his JD at American University Washington College of Law, his MS at Johns Hopkins University and his BS in biology from The George Washington University. A registered patent attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), he is licensed to practice in the District of Columbia and Virginia.

24-hour curfew in major Saudi cities announced

Saudi authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew in most Saudi cities, the capital Riyadh as well as in Jeddah, Dammam, Al-Khobar, Tabuk, Dhahran, Al-Hofuf, Ta’if, Al-Qatif.

Residents can only leave their homes to get essential needs within their neighbourhoods between 6am and 3pm.

Only two passengers, including the driver, may be allowed inside vehicles.

Travel between cities is prohibited.

The curfew decision excludes essential workers in public and private sectors such as medical facilities and pharmacies, grocery stores, gas and oil stations, banking services and maintenance and operation, plumbing, electrical and air conditioning technicians and water delivery services and sewage tanks.

The new foreign capital investment law in Oman

In the last decade, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has witnessed some legislative developments signalling efforts to reduce barriers to foreign investment in most of its member countries. The move has come due to a sharp decline in crude oil prices since 2015 resulting in significantly lower state revenues and partly due to the simmering discontent amongst the populace in wake of the Arab Spring. Much like its more powerful neighbours Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Oman has also embraced policies liberalising foreign investment.

New legislation

On 1 July 2019, the late Sultan Qaboos, the then ruler of Oman, issued Law No. 50/2019 enacting the new foreign capital investment law (the “New FCIL”) that became effective later on 1 January 2020. The New FCIL replaces the earlier foreign capital investment law that was enacted under the Law No. 102/1994 (the “Old FCIL”). The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (the “MOCI”), being the corporate regulator in Oman, will issue executive regulations under the New FCIL (the “New Executive Regulations”) in July this year. The New Executive Regulations are expected to be significantly different from the executive regulations issued under the Old FCIL. Until the issuance of New Executive Regulations, the executive regulations under the Old FCIL will continue to the extent that they do not contradict the provisions of New FCIL

Key features

The Old FCIL restricted foreign investors to conduct any commercial activity in or from Oman without establishing a formal presence by way of a legal entity (commercial company or a branch office) or a local commercial agent. Under the Old FCIL, the maximum ceiling of foreign ownership was restricted to 49% of the share capital of a commercial company which was later increased to 70% upon Oman’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (the “WTO”) However, there were certain exceptions to this condition. GCC and US citizens and companies owned by them were generally allowed to have 100% ownership. Foreign investors setting up special projects (with a minimum capital of OMR 500,000, or equivalent US$ 1.3 million) contributing to the national development were also exempted from the maximum ownership rule provided they had prior approval of competent body. The foreign investors setting up businesses in one of the several free zones were also allowed to have 100% ownership. The New FCIL has abolished the shareholding restrictions on foreign investors (both natural and juridical persons) – effectively removing the requirement of having an Omani shareholder. The foreign investors will now be allowed to have 100% ownership in a wide range of permissible businesses though the fees payable for registration of such companies is set at OMR 3500/- which is considerably more than the fee that was payable by foreign investors for incorporating companies under the OLD FCIL.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry has issued a negative list setting out a list of 37 business activities in which foreign investment is prohibited. These activities include translation and interpretation services, bespoke tailoring, laundry services, taxi operating services, rehabilitation centres, etc.

All the benefits, incentives and guarantees granted to foreign investment projects under the Old FCIL shall continue until such time that such benefits, incentives and guarantees expire. The investment projects will be subject to the laws of Oman and international treaties in force concerning investments and avoidance of double taxation.

The provisions of the New FCIL shall not affect existing legislation related to GCC investments, the free zones (including the Special Economic Zone at Duqm) and the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates.

An Investment Service Centre (the “Centre”) will be established at the MOCI. The Centre is tasked with carrying out licensing and easing the procedures relating to grant of licences, permits and other consents required for an investment project. The Centre will also be responsible for issuing foreign investment licences to foreign investors.

An economic viability study would need to be approved by the MOCI under the New FCIL. It is not yet clear whether this requirement would apply to all foreign investments or just the projects.

The ministerial cabinet may, acting upon the recommendation of MOCI, grant a single approval (covering construction, manpower and other relevant approvals) to establish, operate and manage strategic development projects involving public facilities, infrastructure, new or renewable energy, roads, transport & ports. The New Executive Regulations shall set out the rules and procedures for grant of such approval.

The New Executive Regulations shall also specify the nature of investment projects that may be exempted from taxes and customs and non-customs duties and the duration of such exemptions. The investment projects may also enjoy additional benefits and exemptions at the sole discretion of the ministerial cabinet.

The courts of Oman will have jurisdiction to hear any dispute between an investment project and third parties. The courts will hear such disputes on an expedited basis. The disputes may also be resolved through arbitration. Although the dispute resolution mechanism seems unclear at the moment due to reference to both litigation and arbitration simultaneously, it is expected that the New Executive Regulations will clarify the position.

Future

While we await the New Executive Regulations to clarify certain points including the much-speculated minimum capital requirement for foreign investors to establish a commercial company in Oman, the New FCIL has indeed liberalised the foreign investment regime in the country to much extent – in particular by allowing 100% foreign ownership for most business activities.

Although the move towards liberalisation of foreign investment is largely being driven by lower crude oil prices, it seems that the policymakers in Oman have recognised that simply being open to foreign investments is not enough to diversify the economy. The International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and World Economic Forum have noted that “FDI can boost growth by triggering technology spill overs, promoting knowledge, creating a more competitive business environment, and enhancing productivity.” Past studies have consistently shown that FDI contributes to both productivity growth and income growth in the domestic market beyond what domestic resource mobilisation could alone achieve. The FDI inflow into Oman reached US$ 4.1 billion in 2018 (showing an increase compared to 2017 from US$ 2.9 billion). Free zones (such as the ones in Duqm, Sohar and Salalah) have proven the economic effects of allowing foreign investment. For Oman, foreign investment outside of the oil sector presents a real opportunity to advance domestic knowledge and develop additional competitive and value-add sectors.

Hitherto, the Omani state has been the primary investor in the local market and developer of mega infrastructure projects across the country. The New FCIL coupled with progressive policies towards economic liberalisation has the potential of diversifying the economy and paving the way for the private sector (including foreign investors) to play a bigger role in the development of Omani economy and reap the benefits out of it.

Wave of Transformation in Saudi Arabia

Over the past two years, citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have witnessed huge legal reforms related to women’s rights. The most anticipated and exiting amendments were recently announced pursuant to Royal Decree number (M/34) dated 27/11/1440 corresponding to 30/07/2019. This decree constituted the amendment of four different laws, granting men and women equal civil rights, as well as freedom of independent movement, while ensuring equality for women in the work place.

The first amendment was made to the travel documents law. The change allows women to now issue, renew, and receive their own passports, instead of restricting this right to male citizens. Prior to this amendment, passports of female citizens used to be issued only after a request submitted by their male guardians, following which, only the guardian was authorised to receive it. In addition, a Saudi woman was required to carry a travel permit issued by her male guardian, through the Saudi immigration directorate, in order to travel outside the country. Following the recent reforms, these restrictions have been lifted, allowing Saudi women over the age of 21 to request the issuance of their own passports and travel outside of KSA without needing permissions from their male legal guardians. Another very important right given to Saudi women, as a result of the Decree, is the right for a divorced or widowed mother, holding the custody of her children, to have the authority to issue their passports and travel permissions.

The recent reforms also include amendments to the Saudi labour law, especially with regards to women’s rights. It began by changing the definition of an ‘employee’, stipulated in article two of the law, to state that ‘an employee is any natural person – male or female – who works for an employer…..’ This amendment is a huge recognition of Saudi women’s role and contribution at the workplace.

The amendments to the labour law also state that work is a right of every citizen, without any discrimination based on sex, disability, age, etc. In addition, it restricts an employer’s right to terminate a female employee’s contract in case of absence resulting from her pregnancy or any illness related thereto, as long as such absence does not exceed 180 days a year, whether consecutive or intermitted. This restriction is expected to safeguard working moms’ interests and rights.

The new Saudi labour law demonstrates perfect equality between the two genders at the workplace, in addition to accommodating special provisions that Saudi women may require in certain situations. The recent changes bring Saudi women closer to equality and recognise their importance to the government and economy as a productive, well-respected member of the society. Witnessing such amendments fills every Saudi women’s heart with pride and a sense of fulfilment. It has been a great year for women in Saudi Arabia and I am proud to be one.

SA PHOTO

BSA Named Regional Law Firm of the Year

BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP announced as Regional Law Firm of the Year at the Middle East Legal Awards 2019.

The Middle East Legal Awards hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Legal Week recognised BSA as the Regional Law Firm of the Year. During the ceremony, the judges highlighted BSA’s impressive regional expansion, exceptional approach to client care and innovative strategies including a trade mission to UK & Ireland to boost investment in Saudi Arabia.

BSA was also highly commended in CSR Initiative of the Year category for its annual Legal Clinic event where we provide free of charge legal advice to members of the public on a wide range of legal matters.

About BSA

BSA is a law firm originally founded in Dubai with the primary mission of delivering top-tier legal services based on our comprehensive knowledge of local, national, and international law.

Since our inception in 2001, we have rapidly expanded to a leading full-service law firm, with offices throughout the Middle East and France. Our lawyers are internationally educated, bi-lingual in languages such as English, Arabic, and French, and dual-qualified in both regional and international jurisdictions, having rights of audience in every country within which we operate.

BSA is a law firm that truly reflects the energy and ambition of the Middle East.

If you would like to find out more information about BSA, please visit https://bsabh.com/