On July 6 2015, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) adopted a new Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the Arusha Protocol) at a diplomatic conference that was held in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania.
ARIPO was created as a result of a diplomatic conference held in Zambia in 1976. Membership of ARIPO is open to all member states of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. At present there are 18 ARIPO states that may be designated in a patent application: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania (mainland), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These are mainly the east African, English-speaking African countries.
The aim of the Arusha Protocol is to provide protection for new plant varieties by way of a sui generis plant breeders' rights, also known as plant variety protection, system.
Today, the following African countries/regions have legislation for the protection of new plant varieties (plant breeders' rights): OAPI (the member states of OAPI are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The following African countries have draft legislation for plant breeders' rights: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Madagascar.
Four member states signed the Arusha Protocol on its adoption, namely: The Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. The Protocol will remain open for signature by member states of ARIPO until December 31 2015. The Arusha Protocol will only come in to effect once four countries have ratified it.
If all of the ARIPO states that may be designated in a patent application adopt and ratify the Arusha Protocol, then plant breeders' rights protection will eventually be available via the ARIPO system in Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tome e Principe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania (mainland), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As mentioned above, the only ARIPO states that have plant breeders' rights protection today are Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Arusha Protocol is modelled on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. There are strong reasons for the adoption and ratification of the Arusha Protocol, mainly because a strong system for the protection of plant breeders' rights can increase investor confidence in a country and also encourage the development of and access to new and better varieties of plants. At the same time, serious concern has been expressed in some of the ARIPO member states regarding the possible negative influences that plant breeders' rights could have in these countries. In Africa, where traditional farming methods are conducted by small and subsistence farmers, concerns have been raised that plant breeders' rights could restrict the age-old practices whereby African farmers save, use, share and sell seeds and propagating material.
It remains to be seen which ARIPO member states decide to adopt and ratify the Arusha Protocol.
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