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Avoid pitfalls when investing in Africa

With investment in Africa growing, IP protection in the region is key. Two sessions this week will provide some guidance for rights owners, explains James Nurton.

Foreign direct investment into Africa rose by 4% to $57 billion in 2013, according to data published by UNCTAD last year. With that figure expected to rise in the coming years, IP owners will become increasingly focused on protection in the region.

“Foreign investment is very much connected with intellectual property because investors will not come into a region where their rights are not adequately protected,” says Uche Nwokocha of Aluko & Oyebode in Lagos, Nigeria, who is moderating today’s regional update on Africa.

The session will cover different parts of the continent, with speakers from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Nwokocha told the INTA Daily News: “These represent the different regions of Africa—sub-Saharan, west Africa (including Nigeria and Ghana) and east Africa.”

The session will focus in particular on the issues that arise when there are different agencies involved in IP protection; for example, dealing with trademarks, company names and food and drug approval.

In Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) works “hand-in-hand” with the trademark registry, as applicants for product approvals must show that they are a Nigerian-registered company and either the owner or assignee of the trademark they are intending to use, says Nwokocha.

Even though they are housed in different premises, she says, cross-reference between the two agencies takes place and trademark owners need to know what to expect: “NAFDAC will refer to the Trademark Registry to confirm that the acceptance was issued to the right person.”

Similar rules apply at the Companies Registry to ensure that applicants do not register a company name that infringes a registered trademark. “It’s not complicated,” says Nwokocha, “but you need to ensure you are not doing something that will go against the law of the land.”

She adds that getting your strategy in place ahead of investment is vital to ensure you know what to expect from the various agencies: “We will show you how they work hand-in-hand to ensure rights are adequately ­protected.”

RT20 Trademark Offices in Africa: The Importance of Working with Related Government Agencies takes place from 11:45 am to 1:00 pm today. It is followed by the Africa Reception from 1:15 pm to 2:15 pm. INTA will host a conference in Africa addressing many of these issues in 2016.

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