Africa urged to strengthen IP legal mechanisms

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Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek- Intellectual Property (IP) experts are calling on Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to implement intellectual property rights enforcement mechanisms to help deter international trademark counterfeiting, copyright piracy and other forms of infringement spanning all sectors in the region.

The IP specialists, who met in Windhoek on Monday, expressed concern over the rampant trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy across the region and urged member states to speak with one voice.

The Commissioner of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) of South Africa, Rory Voller, said although most African countries have by-laws to protect people’s right to own their creative products such as ideas, names or inventions, they lack enforcement mechanisms.

Voller said most laws have failed to support the national system of innovation and were actively disadvantaging local inventors while facilitating exploitation by foreign interests.

Voller emphasized that the void left by lack of legal mechanisms to protect the products of human intelligence and creation, such as copyrightable works and trademarks, has resulted in high online piracy rates and large amounts of counterfeit goods.

“Without this enforcement, entrepreneurs and developers may not feel motivated to innovate, lacking the incentive to pursue creative activities that change lives and create jobs,” he said.

Voller further blamed the current system of acquiring patents in most African countries for the small number of people on the continent who are registering their IP, saying it is too costly and time-consuming. 

Despite these flaws and challenges, many African economies are focused on and open to reviewing and improving their IP rights climates. Several countries in Africa have started formulating and adopting intellectual property policies attributing to reviewing and revising legal intellectual property and institutional frameworks.

Namibia is one of the countries with established mechanisms to protect intellectual property rights. The country is a signatory to international instruments on IP including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

The country is also party to the protocol relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks and the Patent Cooperation Treaty as well as to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

The Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development oversees industrial property and is responsible for the registration of companies, private corporations, patents, trademarks, and designs through the Business and Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA).

BIPA was established under the Business and Intellectual Authority Act (Act No. 8) of 2016.

Uganda has also made progress following the launch of the National Intellectual Property in 2016.  The government has also started revising the Industrial Property Rights Act.

 “What is important is that governments and authorities have recognised the importance of regularly reviewing and optimising laws to keep pace with the current challenges IP owners face. The Ugandan government has also recognised the importance of not always following the same methods used by developed countries, or imposing tight regulations that end up hampering innovation, but rather figuring out what is most conducive for Africa,” said a Ugandan IP expert, who also attended the workshop.

Zimbabwe also launched the National IP Policy and Strategy in 2016, whereby the country is laying out the foundation of success in terms of innovation and industrialisation.

“Through the national policy, the country has identified an institution to administer rights and establish the correct infrastructure for administration to modernise our IP laws and policies. We also outline recommendations on how to be part and parcel of international treaties. With ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization) Zimbabwe will also make sure that we have the capacity to train our people,” said a Zimbabwean IP expert, Willie Mushayi.

Addressing IP experts during a technical workshop, Namibia’s Minister of Trade and Industrialisation Tjekero Tweya said dialogue on intellectual property in Africa is gaining momentum.

“This is yet another manifestation of the importance of aligning intellectual property to national development plans. Several countries in Africa, are formulating and adopting intellectual property policies attributing to reviewing and revising legal intellectual property and institutional framework. Such developments strengthen intellectual property as catalysts for the prosperity of our nations,” Tweya said in his opening address.

The workshop was hosted by BIPA in partnership with the European Union Intellectual Property Network (EUIPN) and attended by representatives from the industrial property offices of the member states of ARIPO and South Africa.  About 50 officials from 21 countries across Africa attended the workshop with the aim to strengthen relations with international and regional organisations, through sharing the benefits of the IP tools developed by the EUIPN, particularly the small and medium enterprise sector.

 

 

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