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Interview: Fernando dos Santos

In the past 12 months, ARIPO has celebrated its 40th anniversary, gained a new logo and its Director General Fernando dos Santos has started his second tenure. Kingsley Egbuonu talked to him

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“ARIPO is now in a time and period of maturity,” says ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos, explaining: “The main objective of the founding fathers was to create a platform where African countries can think and work together on African IP developments.” He continued: “Then they were focusing on policy, now we’re into administration and cover all areas of IP.”

Last December ARIPO opened its new state-of-the-art building on the day it celebrated its 40th anniversary. “We now have a modern building with more offices, training rooms and conference rooms, with a modern IT system. This will also help with our capacity building initiatives. It has really uplifted the image of the office among our staff and users in general,” says dos Santos.

ARIPO’s IT system, which was completed last year, has improved the process both from the office and user perspectives. Its e-filing system started in 2015. “95% of payments now come through the e-payment. E-filing figures from the first quarter of this year is at 67% for patent, 53% trademark and 64% for design,” says dos Santos He adds that the Office is doing its best to encourage more users to try the system. “We’re trying to find new ways to influence people especially agents. We have trained agents on how to use it and the decision of the Administrative Council made it possible for those who file online to get a 20% discount in fees.”

Amendments to the Harare Protocol, which were approved last year, came into effect in January this year. Some of the changes allow for restoration of lapsed rights, examination request and amendment of granted rights, and the office has also increased fees. dos Santos provided believes these are justified: “2006 was the last time we increased fees. Inflation at about 15% was the main reason we increased fees by about 10% but we considered the fact that we’ve improved services, increased the number of examiners and built new infrastructure.” dos Santos said that fees will now be reviewed every five years, according to the Administrative Council’s decision, noting that the recent increase has not affected patent filing numbers.

In other developments, Mozambique has made changes to its law so hopes it will soon accede to the Banjul Protocol. Zambia is another member state showing promising signs. Work is continuing on Regulations for the Arusha Protocol, which he expects to be presented later this year. Governments are also looking to develop evidence-based IP policies, and dos Santos says their capacity is getting better: “We’ve seen improvements in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana. These countries are trying to move away from government ministries and to bring all areas of IP together under one roof. I am glad that their IP registries are looking to becoming independent, autonomous and effective.”

The next stage, according to dos Santos, is to engage with universities to help improve the IP ecosystem in member states. He wants to see contributions from member states on IP discourse. He explained: “We want to see more African innovation coming into the African market. We want universities to come up with IP awareness programmes among researchers, sensitise them to create IP policies for managing IP created, and want them to establish a technology transfer office.” He said talks started with the University of Ghana last year and there will be meetings with universities in other member states. “We need quality studies on IP from Africa to help policymakers make good IP policies.”

ARIPO/WIPO masters degree

ARIPO is now inviting applications for the 2017/18 masters degree programme in IP. In his interview, dos Santos thanked Managing IP for sponsoring the donation of IP books to the Africa University for the benefit of the students on the course. Since its inception over 200 students, from 25 countries, have graduated from the course and he expects a high pass rate from the 2016/17 cohort. “They made a big difference for research for our students. We hope to see more of this resource and support to help students come up with quality papers,” he says. dos Santos also updated us that the Africa University launched its peer-review IP journal, in collaboration with ARIPO, last December and is now working on its second issue.

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