In the wake of the debt crisis in Europe, the business world is looking at emerging markets in the developing world with renewed interest. From being regarded as something of a basket case, Africa is now seen as playing a significant role in the First World's economic salvation. However, this cannot have any hope of success in a completely laissez-faire environment and prudent practice requires that intellectual property be properly protected wherever business is done.

Naturally, IP-owners will be concerned about enforceability of their rights in African states and the procedures involved in doing so. Certain regional IP-related organisations have already been established to streamline this process, including ARIPO and OAPI. ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization) is a regional patent filing system in Africa and is similar to the regional patent filing system in Europe, allowing an application for granting a patent to be made centrally at the ARIPO office, which is situated in Zimbabwe. The other regional patent system in Africa is OAPI (Organisation Africaine de la Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle the African Intellectual Property Organization), which currently has 16 member states.

The legal frameworks are thus in place, but it pays to have local expertise in terms procedure, national law and multi-lateral agreements. Based on this, South African IP practices are looking to their home continent with increasing interest and some highly respected names in the local legal world recently have announced the opening of offices in various African states. With the world wanting to do business in Africa, IP is becoming a hot commodity.

In some cases, this is not so much a scramble for Africa as the continuation of an existing strategy. An example of this is the IP specialist firm, Spoor & Fisher, which has for some thirty years provided services across Africa, mainly through its Jersey office. Spoor & Fisher has an OAPI office in Cameroon and a well-developed network of agents across the continent.

No doubt, doing business in Africa can imply a steep learning curve so seeking advice from experts with a sound track record may be the best route for new players.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.