The 'Africa's Best Brands' article that was published in the African Business magazine recently is interesting from both a brand and a trade mark protection perspective.

The article contains some useful insights. It tells us that economic growth in Africa is expected to be 5% in 2015. It mentions some of the factors that make Africa an increasingly attractive market for companies from around the globe: a population that's becoming increasingly urbanised; the rapid growth of cities; rising incomes; a rapidly-expanding middle class; an aspirational population that demands more as it becomes wealthier. Consumer spending, we're told, is expected to reach US$1 trillion by 2020.

The article analyses two different brand surveys that were done recently, the first being the Most Valuable Brands, and the second being the Most Admired Brands in Africa. Various interesting things emerge:

  • There's not always a correlation between brand value and respect. The obvious candidates top the Most Valuable Brands list – Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft. Yet Coca Cola, the sixth most valuable brand, is the most admired brand in Africa.
  • Even more eye-catching is the fact that MTN - the South African-based, pan-African cell phone company - is the 36th most valuable brand in Africa, yet the second most admired brand in the continent. This quite possibly speaks to the huge reliance on cell phones in Africa, with over 50% of all Africans apparently owning a cell phone. Nokia, the 51st most valuable brand, is the fourth most admired brand in Africa.
  • Another brand that stands out for punching above its weight is the Kenyan beer brand Tusker – although only number 75 in value, it's the 23rd most admired brand in Africa.
  • There is a certain element of 'west is best' in Africa, in that more than 75% of the brands featured are from outside of the continent. A further survey suggests that the USA is the nation most admired by Africans, with Nigeria being second, and South Africa seventh.
  • Despite all this, African brands do fare rather well. South African brands that make the cut include: cell phone providers MTN and Cell C; food companies Tiger Brands and Koo; retailers Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Game and Spar; beer brand Castle; and subscription TV provider DSTV.
  • Brands from other African countries feature in the surveys too, such as: Tusker, Safaricom and Toyo Soap (Kenya); Nile Beer, Mukwano and Kakira (Uganda); Dangote and Star Beer (Nigeria); Marsavco (DRC); Azam (Tanzania). Although Africans do seem to aspire to what they see elsewhere, they're quite proud of what they do themselves too.
  • The people of Africa are very much into cars, communications, apparel, retail, foodstuffs, soft drinks and beer. Some luxury brands like Versace and Louis Vuitton feature in the lists, but the internet brands fare less well – Google, the third most valuable brand, is only the 94th most admired in Africa.

South African and other African companies will be heartened to see that the people of the continent like what they have to offer. As for non-African companies, well they'll see opportunities aplenty.

What everyone will see is that trade mark protection is vital. But it's complex, because Africa offers a variety of options.

There's no choice, however, when it comes to many of the French-speaking countries, where the only way of securing trade mark protection is through a single OAPI registration (it's much like the CTM system in the EU, but the difference is that there is no alternative of a national registration in any of the countries). It has, however, followed, the lead of the CTM by signing up to the international trade mark registration (Madrid) system as a region, which means that anyone filing an international registration (IR) can in future simply designate OAPI as part of the IR, without having to file a separate OAPI trade mark application. The countries that belong to the OAPI system are:

Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoro Islands, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

As for the English-speaking countries of Africa, a number of them belong to the ARIPO system, which is a designation system much like the Madrid system. In other words, you have to designate which of the specific ARIPO countries you wish to cover and you pay accordingly. National registrations are, however, still a more reliable option. The two largest English -speaking countries, Nigeria and South Africa, have chosen not to belong to ARIPO. The member countries are:

Botswana, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The international registration system (Madrid) now also covers much of Africa, with recent converts being Tunisia and Zimbabwe and, as mentioned, the OAPI regional block. The countries and regions that that form part of the system are:

Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, OAPI, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Finally there is the national route. In Africa's two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, national registration is in fact the only option.

Trade mark protection in Africa is not for the faint of heart.

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.