5. Protection of Property Rights
Individuals and investors face significant challenges with protection and enforcement of property rights. Despite recent improvements, procedures remain cumbersome, and registrants have complained of corruption during the process. Over the last three decades, the GoA has drafted and passed much, though not all, of its property legislation in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way. According to the EU’s 2020 Report, Albania must consolidate the entrenchment of property rights, especially by finalizing first registration, advancing the registration of property deeds, and implementing the compensation scheme. Reform of the sector has yet to incorporate consolidation of property rights and the elimination of legal uncertainties. The Law on the Finalization of Transitional Ownership Processes adopted in March 2020 aims to consolidate property rights by finalizing land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.
The property registration system has improved thanks to international donor assistance, but the process has moved forward very slowly as Albania has yet to complete the initial registration of property titles in the country. By the end of 2019, approximately one third of the properties were registered in digital form, focused almost entirely in Tirana and in other areas that experienced significant development. In total 3.5 million properties were registered as part of the initial registration process which represents slightly above 80% of total properties in Albania. However, plot records for many of these properties are still only in paper form and often in poor and outdated condition. Approximately 1 million properties have still not been registered for the first time, which includes the southern coastal area. In 2020, the government launched a process to register properties in the southern coastal area, and area that holds significant potential for the tourism industry. However, the poor state of the data is a risk for title security and a constraint to investment.
Albania has registered an estimated 440,000 illegal structures, built without permits, and illicit construction continues to be a major impediment to securing property titles. A process that aims to legalize or eliminate such structures started in 2006 but is not complete. Around 178,000 legalization permits were issued through the end of 2019.
The fluid situation has led to clashes between squatters, owners of allegedly illegal buildings, and the Albanian State Police including during the demolition of these structures to make way for public infrastructure projects.
To streamline the property management process, the GoA established in April 2019 the State Cadaster Agency (ASHK), which merged different agencies responsible for property registration, compensation, and legalization, including the Immovable Property Registration Office (IPRO), the Agency of Inventory and Transfer of Public Properties (AITPP), and the Agency for the Legalization and Urbanization of Informal Areas (ALUIZNI).
According to the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business Report,” Albania performed poorly in the property registration category, ranking 98th out of 190 countries. It took an average of 19 days and five procedures to register property, and the associated costs could reach 8.9 percent of the total property value. The civil court system manages property rights disputes, but verdicts can take years, authorities often fail to enforce court decisions, and corruption concerns persist within the judiciary.
Intellectual Property Rights
Albania is not included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List. That said, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement and theft are common due to weak legal structures and poor enforcement. Counterfeit goods, while decreasing, are present in some local markets and shopping malls, including software, garments, machines, and cigarettes. Albanian law protects copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications, but enforcement of these laws is weak. Regulators are ineffective at collecting fines and prosecutors rarely press charges for IPR theft. U.S. companies should consult an experienced IPR attorney and avoid potential risks by establishing solid commercial relationships and drafting strong contracts. According to the 2020 published by Property Right Alliance, Albania ranks 112th out of 129 countries evaluated, and bottom in the region. It ranked 78th in the subcategory of copyright piracy.
A revised 2016 IPR law aimed to strengthen enforcement and address shortcomings so as to harmonize domestic legislation with that of the EU. In 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to include harsher punishments of up to three years in prison for IPR infringement.
In the areas of copyright, patent, and trademarks, the two main bodies responsible are the Copyright Directorate and the General Directorate of Industrial Property (GDIP), which is in charge of registering, administering, and promoting IPR. Other institutions responsible for IPR enforcement include the Copyright Division of the State Inspectorate for Market Surveillance (SIMS), the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), the General Directorate for Customs, the Tax Inspectorate, the Prosecutor’s Office, the State Police, and the courts. In 2018, the National Council of Copyrights was established as a specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law and certifying the methodology for establishing the tariffs. Two other important bodies in the protection and administration of IPR are the agencies for the Collective Administration (AAK) and the Copyrights Department within the Ministry of Culture. Four different AAKs have merged in 2017 to provide service into a sole window for the administration of IPR.
The SIMS, established in 2016, is responsible for inspecting, controlling, and enforcing copyright and other related rights. Despite some improvements, actual law enforcement on copyrights continues to be problematic and copyright violations are persistent. The number of copyright violation cases brought to court remains low. While official figures are not available this year, Customs does usually report the quantity of counterfeit goods destroyed annually. In cases of seizures, the rights holder has the burden of proof and so must first inspect the goods to determine if they are infringing. The rights holder is also responsible for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods.
Cigarettes are traditionally the most common counterfeited product seized by Customs. According to the EU 2020 report on Albania, the high number of counterfeit products in the country remains a cause for concerns
The GDIP is responsible for registering and administering patents, commercial trademarks and service marks, industrial designs, and geographical indications. The 2008 law on industrial property was amended in 2014 to more closely align with that of the EU. In 2020, the number of applications to register industrial property continued to rise with 2,654 new applications (including 1,475 trademarks and 1158 for patents). GDIP has prepared draft legislation on trade secrets in order to align the with the EU acquis which was deposited in the Parliament in December 2020.
Albania is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Law Treaty, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and is a member of the European Patent Organization. The government became party to the London Agreement on the Implementation of Article 65 of the European Convention for Patents in 2013. In 2018, Parliament approved the Law 34/2018 on Albania’s adherence to the Vienna Agreement for the International Classification of the Figurative Elements of Marks. In June 2019, Albania joined the Geneva Act of WIPO’s Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.
Resources for Rights Holders