An overview of Regional Systems for IP Protection

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Intellectual property refers to inventions of the mind that are intangible in nature and are protected as such as trademarks, Patents, Copyrights and related rights and industrial designs.

They are a core component of most businesses in the 21st Century and valuable assets for which management efficiencies are as important as for any other asset. The dynamics of globalization and the effects that it has on strategies for every business, whether national or multinational, require that businesses pay closer attention to opportunities that help maximize benefits to the company and reduce costs to free up resources for other strategic interests of the business.

Given its territorial nature, protection of IP has often been undertaken by local, regional and multinational entities at national level. That means that subsidiaries or branches at national level are left to determine and follow up on protection and enforcement of IP rights in their respective jurisdictions. This in turn impacts on the cost of protection and enforcement, quality control, and ultimately the overall business strategies of the group.

A number of regional and international frameworks for IP protection however exist that can help reduce dispersed protection measures and facilitate central management and uniform strategy formulation for the group without impacting on local peculiarities of the business. Though enforcement ultimately remains territorial, these regional and multinational processes greatly contribute to better and central control of enforcement strategies and facilitate exchange of best practices.

The ARIPO System

In this edition, we provide commentary on the ARIPO System which is the key Africa region framework of significance to multinationals with Kenyan operations/interests.

ARIPO was the result of an idea mooted at a regional seminar on patents and copyright held in Nairobi  in  the early 1970’s and the first draft agreement on the creation of a regional intellectual property organization was adopted in 1976 by a diplomatic conference – The Lusaka Agreement [also known as the draft Agreement on the Creation of the Industrial Property Organization for English-speaking Africa (ESARIPO)]. The idea was that the organization would serve mainly Anglophone countries. In practice that remains the case with very few exceptions. A number of lusophone and francophone countries have since joined ARIPO (The latest being the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe). Membership
remains open to any member of the African Union or the Economic Commission for Africa.

The principal idea behind the establishment of ARIPO, was the pooling of resources of member countries in industrial property matters in order to utilize to the maximum available resources in these countries to ensure effective protection of industrial property, capacity building and training of staff in their respective industrial property institutions, development and harmonization of laws and general efficiencies.

Legal Framework

The Lusaka Agreement on the Creation of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO)

The Lusaka Agreement was adopted at a diplomatic conference at Lusaka (Zambia) on December 9, 1976 and establishes ARIPO at Article 1 thereof.

Pursuant to its functions and powers under the Agreement (Article VII) the Administrative Council of ARIPO has developed protocols and regulations that form  the  background  of the legal and operational design of intellectual property protection in member states under the system. These include:

  1. The Harare Protocol on Patents and Industrial Designs within the Framework of the African Regional Industrial Property Organization
  2. The Banjul Protocol on Marks; and
  3. The Swakopmund Protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore.

Membership to the Lusaka Agreement does not necessarily imply membership to the protocols. Each protocol applies to different aspects of intellectual property and membership to each is voluntary.

The Harare Protocol

The Harare protocol applies to protection of patents and Industrial designs and currently has 19 contracting States, namely; Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe (the latest member as at August 19, 2014).

How the filing System works: brief overview

The Harare Protocol provides a framework for filing and protection of patents and industrial designs within member states.  The Protocol is supplemented in its provisions by administrative regulations that make further and detailed provisions for the manner in which an application is treated from the date of filing to grant of patent or refusal as the case may be.

There are principally two regulations under the Harare protocol in this regard;

  1. The regulations for implementing the protocol on patents and industrial designs within the framework of    the African regional intellectual property organization (‘the regulations’); and
  2. The administrative instructions under the regulations for implementing the protocol on patents, industrial designs and utility models within the framework of the African regional intellectual property organization (the Administrative instructions)

The regulations are made by the Administrative council pursuant to section 5 of the Harare Protocol and mainly deal with substantive matters relating to the content of applications filed with the ARIPO office including on the requirements for patentability, the right of priority, Appeal procedures against decisions of patent examiners and treatment of PCT applications under the ARIPO system.

Administrative instructions on the other hand are made by the office of the Director General of ARIPO pursuant to rule 2(5) (a) of the regulations and mainly deal with the day to day administrative requirements of ARIPO including the formality details in respect of applications under the protocol, filing timings, fees payable for each service, detailed steps in the filing and examination of applications up to grant, notification and communication procedures, the forms to be used for various filings etc.

Patents

In summary the ARIPO system is registration based and subject to notifications of refusal by national offices whereas the PCT system is a filing system.

An applicant for the grant of a patent for an invention or the registration of an industrial design can, by filing only one application, either with any one of the Contracting States or directly with the ARIPO Office, designate any one of the Contracting States in which that applicant wishes the invention or industrial design to be accorded protection.

The ARIPO Office, on receipt of the patent application, undertakes both formality and substantive examination to ensure that the invention which is the subject of the application is patentable (i.e. it is new, involves an inventive step and is capable of industrial application).

If the application complies with the substantive requirements, copies thereof are sent to each designated Contracting State which may, within six months, indicate to the ARIPO Office that, according to grounds specified in the protocol, should ARIPO grant the patent that grant will not have effect in its territory.

For industrial design applications, only a formality examination is performed. If the application fulfills the formal requirements, the ARIPO Office registers the industrial design which has effect in the designated States. However, the same right to communicate to the ARIPO Office within six months that the registration may not have effect in the designated States concerned is reserved.

The Administrative Council, at its Second Extra-ordinary session held in April 1994, adopted amendments to the Harare Protocol and its Implementing Regulations to create a link between the protocol and the WIPO-governed Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). This link commenced operation on July 1, 1994, and has the following effects:

  1. Any applicant filing a PCT application may designate ARIPO which in turn means a designation of all States party to both the Harare Protocol and the PCT;
  2. The ARIPO Office acts as a receiving office under the PCT for such States; and
  3. The ARIPO Office may be elected in any PCT application.

All current Harare Protocol Contracting States are also signatory to the PCT.

The Banjul Protocol

The Banjul Protocol on Marks, adopted by the Administrative Council in 1993, establishes a trademark application filing system along the lines of the Harare Protocol. Under the Banjul Protocol, an applicant may file a single application either at one of the Banjul Protocol Contracting States or directly with the ARIPO Office. The application should designate Banjul Protocol Contracting States as the States in which the applicant wishes the mark to be protected once the ARIPO Office has registered it.

States currently party to the Banjul Protocol are: Botswana, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. (Total: 9 States.). Kenya is yet to accede to this treaty and so trademarks filing can only be done locally or through the Madrid system as we shall see in the next edition of the newsletter.

Since 1997, the protocol has been extensively revised in order to make it compatible with the TRIPs Agreement to make it more user-friendly.

Conclusion

The ARIPO system is highly advised for clients with regional interests. We represent a number of clients in patent applications using the system and recommend it for costs savings and efficient management of the application process (more so for bulk applications) in several member countries.

In the next edition of the newsletter, we shall provide commentary on international filing systems to give a broader perspective for multinationals operating in Africa and beyond.