By Spoor & Fisher
In the past few years business in Africa has been booming. Owners of intellectual property rights generally adopt a medium to long-term view and therefore patent protection in Africa is an important factor for the increasing number of businesses looking to Africa's long-term growth prospects.
Africa is replete with opportunities for business. The world's second-largest continent, it covers approximately 12 million square miles – about one-fifth of the earth's land surface. It has 54 independent countries and a population of more than one billion people.
|The following countries fit into Africa, illustrating the size of Africa|
In 2011, The Economist and the IMF released statistics showing that from 2001 to 2010, six of the top 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa, and it is projected that from 2011 to 2015, seven countries in Africa will make the list.
|Source: Economist, IMF, January 2011|
Patent laws and protection in Africa have undergone a major transformation over the years. Many African countries have adhered to international conventions and agreements such as the TRIPs agreement, the Paris Convention, the Madrid Protocol and the PCT. However, it is very important to note that not all countries in Africa have updated their national legislation to recognise these international agreements. Nearly all African countries are members of the Paris Convention (except for seven) and PCT (11 are not).
Historically, patent protection in Africa used to be done through automatic extensions of IP rights from former colonial powers or through antiquated patent laws that were difficult to use and interpret in light of technological developments. This has now changed with the exception of a handful of African countries. Laws regarding the protection of intellectual property in Africa vary from country to country. Most African countries have their own national IP laws, to some degree based on the legal system of their former colonial power. North and west African states are thus civil law countries with deposit systems modeled on those of France. South and east African countries are common law countries modelled on the IP laws of the UK. The IP laws of both Angola and Mozambique are modeled on those of Portugal, and those of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi are modeled on Belgium's laws.
|Colonial Africa in 1913|
Furthermore, Africa is the only continent with two regional patent organisations, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) which make it easy to obtain patent protection in multiple countries through a single filing.
At present there are 17 ARIPO countries which may be designated in an ARIPO patent application: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Designation of member countries is not required in an OAPI patent application, as all OAPI applications are automatically in respect of all member countries. There are 16 member states of OAPI: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
Africa's patent outlook
Patent filings into Africa continue to increase, with filing strategies being dependent on the markets and technologies being patented. Patent filings in Africa cover various technologies including oil and gas, telecommunications, mining, pharmaceuticals, agriculture (including transgenic plants), water treatment and solar technology. We expect to see further transformation of the patent systems as companies increase their patent filings into Africa.