7 September 2021

Foreign IP Filings Into Africa

Smit & Van Wyk


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Smit & Van Wyk is a specialist Intellectual Property law firm that deals exclusively with IP law in South Africa and across Africa as a whole. Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources to give expert legal advice regarding IP portfolio’s and can assist with the filing, registration, prosecution and enforcement thereof.
According to estimates, Africa's population will reach 2.4 billion by the year 2050.
South Africa Intellectual Property
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According to estimates, Africa's population will reach 2.4 billion by the year 2050. This will, in turn, create considerable opportunities in terms of economic growth which also creates opportunities in terms of innovation and a knowledge economy. Countries in Africa that have achieved rapid and sustained economic growth rates, which are projected to continue, include: Uganda, Benin, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Libya.

As the African continent presents a large market with huge potential for economic growth and development, multi-national corporations are actively filing patents across the African continent. With a rapidly growing and evolving market in Africa, foreign intellectual property (IP) owners are extending their IP protection to Africa and commencing business operations here.

Growth, innovation and intellectual property is important to African countries in order for them to become producers of high-value knowledge-based goods and services. This will assist African countries in reversing existing trends, such as Africa importing most of what it consumes, and allow them the opportunity to add value to the products they export. Investing in innovation and protecting patents in Africa will support the production of new technologies, improve on old technologies and create employment and further opportunities for growth.

Reviewing the patent filings received by African patent offices, both nationally and regionally, provides insight into the technology and industry trends in Africa. It is important to keep in mind that not all technologies and industries lend themselves to patent protection. Nonetheless, patent filings at least reveal which industries are innovating and relying on patents for securing return on investment (ROI) in Africa.

As Africa is regarded as a developing continent with many emerging markets, the top technology categories for patent filings in Africa might surprise. The top technology categories for patent filings in Africa include: pharmaceuticals, organic fine chemistry, basic materials chemistry, chemical engineering, biotechnology and civil engineering.

Other areas of interest showing high numbers of patent filings in Africa include: agrochemicals, biochemistry, food chemistry, veterinary medicine, energy, bioenergy, food and beverage manufacturing, paper and textile manufacturing, environmental conservation and remediation, and agricultural implements. Many of these fields of technology form the basis of important sectors in Africa which sustain the workforce.

Africa is also starting to become a contributing player on many technological fronts. African companies and educational institutions are actively innovating in the fields of telecommunication, high-tech processing and med-tech. As of December 2020, Nigeria had more than 154 million internet users (the highest number reported in all of Africa). Governmental funding is also allowing start-ups to enter this space, further driving innovation in the African market.

Generally, more patent filings are lodged in countries with larger economies or higher GDPs. For this reason, the most national patent filings occur in Nigeria and South Africa.

Obtaining IP protection also opens the door to potential licensing opportunities with local companies. Thus, even companies not interested in operating in Africa at this stage, should consider obtaining IP protection in Africa to take advantage of licensing opportunities. Licensing of IP in Africa can prove lucrative for foreign IP owners, particularly when minimal ongoing support is needed from the IP owner. The licence agreement can place obligations on the local licencee to proactively protect the rights and interests of the licensor. Such obligations may include to uphold the brand in the licence territory, or to bring any potential infringement to the attention of the licensor, etc. The licensor can even place obligations of secrecy and/or confidentiality on the local licencee, thereby shielding business knowledge and know-how from third parties.

Obtaining IP protection in Africa also creates a barrier to potential competitors desiring market entry. Registered IP can be used as leverage to secure licensing agreements with competitors in the relevant territories, be that local or foreign competitors, ensuring that the foreign IP owner benefits from the use of the technology in Africa.

Obtaining registered IP protection in Africa can thus be a lucrative extension for foreign entities wishing to commercialise their technology either through starting new operations in the African region or through negotiating licence agreement with local companies or entrepreneurs. In turn, this will also lead to advantages for the local African market through economic growth, employment opportunities and stimulation of innovation on the continent.

Originally published 27 May, 2021

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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