Africa: Cameroon criminalises IP infringement
Cameroon has made it clear that it takes the infringement of IP rights very seriously.
A new law that amends Cameroon's Penal Code, Law No 2016/007 of July 12 2016, brings IP infringement firmly into the realm of criminal law. It does this by creating a large number of new criminal offences. Cameroon is a member of the OAPI regional registration system, so the IP rights referred to in the new law are OAPI registrations.
There are now criminal offences relating to trade marks, patents, designs and copyright. Given that counterfeiting tends to affect trade mark rights the most, it is no surprise that trade marks get special attention.
It is now an offence to forge a registered trade mark. It is also an offence to conceal, sell, export, import or use any object that constitutes an infringement of a registered trade mark. The penalties for these offences are severe and include fines and prison terms of up to two years.
With patents, it is an offence to "unknowingly" use a patent, as well as to conceal, sell, export or use any object that constitutes an infringement of a patent. As for designs, it is an offence to "unduly exploit" a registered design. The authorities will only prosecute offences relating to patents and designs if the owner of the registration lodges a complaint.
Offences relating to patents and designs are punishable with fines, although a prison term of up to six months can also be imposed in the case of a repeat offence. If the alleged offender raises an issue regarding the validity or ownership of the patent or design, the court is required to rule on that issue.
It is with copyright where the most offences are created. The new offences cover a whole range of actions including reproduction, sale, importation, infringement of moral rights, failure to pay licensing fees, disabling of technical measures designed to protect works from infringement, and removal of electronic information that helps identify the work or the conditions of use. Penalties are particularly severe – prison terms of up to 10 years.
In respect of all IP offences a court has wide ancillary powers. It can, for example, order confiscation and delivery-up of infringing goods and equipment used in infringement. It can insist that its judgment is published in any media that it deems appropriate, and this publication will be at the expense of the offender. It can even disqualify the offender from membership of a Chamber of Commerce for a period of 10 years.
As the country that houses the OAPI office, Cameroon is a big player in OAPI. It will be interesting to see whether other OAPI member countries, or indeed other African countries, follow suit.