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
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
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.
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