Spotlight shines on Africa
“We’re now at a time when Africa is in the spotlight again, and trademarks are right at the forefront,” says Brenda Kahari, of BW Kahari in Zimbabwe. Growing investment, demand for minerals and natural resources and new trade opportunities are combining to increase interest in Africa—and in protecting IP rights.
Kahari is leading INTA’s Africa Rising initiative, which was launched last October. It aims to bring together the expertise in various INTA Committees to help develop Africa’s IP infrastructure. Kahari says the aim is to benefit both overseas investors and “to get more Africans to understand the IP system and take advantage of it”.
She adds that recent years have seen “more focus” from political leaders on the economic benefits of IP protection, as well as lots of development support from WIPO. This has already led to concrete improvements, including amendments to the laws in Mozambique, Namibia and Uganda as well as other initiatives such as a Kenyan website on anticounterfeiting and a new border protection system in Zimbabwe led by the tax authority.
For brand owners, the most important institutions in Africa are ARIPO and OAPI, the former of which is under new leadership this year. INTA has long worked to support these organizations; its OAPI/ARIPO subcommittee, which Kahari now chairs, was established in the mid-1990s. But she warns that the two bodies function differently: OAPI has superseded national systems, and enables applicants to designate 16 states with one filing while ARIPO member states still retain considerable autonomy. “ARIPO has a lot of potential to improve,” says Kahari. “Once the laws are harmonized, it will function much better.”
Throughout the continent, IP offices face problems due to the lack of skilled staff, equipment, supplies and guidelines on best practice. And this is where INTA and its members can help. “We try to offer national offices a resource, someone with expertise who can show them what we’ve gone through,” says Kahari. As well as the OAPI/ARIPO subcommittee, support has come from the Famous Marks, Legislation & Regulation and Nontraditional Marks Committees. “Whenever we get a request, we ask: who in INTA can help?” she adds.
Longer term, Kahari hopes there will be more participation from Africa in INTA: including more members, representation from officials and judges at the Annual Meeting and events hosted in Africa. She’s already looking forward to the 2014 Annual Meeting. “We hope to have a good presence in Hong Kong, and a good program for Africa Rising,” she says.