Preparing For A Pan-African Intellectual Property Office

Preparing For A Pan-African Intellectual Property Office

Patent applications have increased in Africa — a trend that’s expected to continue — but they’re not where they should be, says Fernando dos Santos, head of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation.

In 2014, the ARIPO — one of two regional IP groups on the continent — received 835 patent applications and 363 trademark applications, according to a report in ManagingIP.

By comparison, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received 615,243 total patent applications in 2014.

Africa has two regional organizations that together promote intellectual property rights in 36 African member countries, but three of the continent’s largest economies haven’t signed up, and a third is now being considered — a pan-African IP organization — ManagingIP reports.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) is based in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) has headquarters in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

ARIPO has 19 member countries with Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe the latest to join. OAPI has 17 members.

Both operate differently. Applications and grants by OAPI automatically have unitary effect in all member states, ManagingIP reports. This is not the case in ARIPO, where member states must ratify and implement the protocols.

Together ARIPO and OAPI cover 36 of the 54 countries in Africa. However, three of the largest African economies are not members: Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa.

This has generated speculation that both offices may merge, and that the non-member economies, especially South Africa, may want to establish the Pan-African Intellectual Property Office (PAIPO) – an office expected to exist alongside ARIPO and OAPI, ManagingIP reports.

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ARIPO is preparing for the possibility of a pan­-African IP office, said its Director General dos Santos.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) was established under the Lusaka Agreement of 1976. Its objective was to provide centralized registration of patents and industrial designs and promote harmonization of intellectual property legislation, according to Spoor. Trademark registration wasn’t part of the agreement until the Banjul Trade Marks Protocol became effective in 1997.

The Banjul Protocol created a centralized trademark registration system. It empowers ARIPO to register trade and service marks on behalf of member countries.

IP practitioners think the Banjul Protocol is less effective than the trademark system operated by OAPI, which in 2014 joined the Madrid System, according to ManagingIP.

The Madrid system is the primary international system for registering trademarks in multiple jurisdictions around the world.

Dos Santos took over as director general of ARIPO in January 2013 after serving for eight years as director general of the Mozambique Industrial Property Institute.

He told ManagingIP he was elected based on a promise to revamp the work of the organization and make it more visible. “I focused on reviewing the workflow so as to get rid of unnecessary procedures and streamline the process of registering IP rights,” he said.