Asian companies are shifting from manufacturing to high-tech research and product development. As a consequence, Asian companies are now important innovators who generate valuable intellectual property (IP) which can be commercially exploited.

The African market presents an ideal opportunity for innovating Asian companies. Intellectual property is recognised and revered in Africa. It is considered an essential business asset which secures a business monopoly in the market. Companies generating IP and bringing that IP to Africa are seen to propel the local economies forward, creating jobs and improving the lives of Africans.

The relatively high cost of intellectual property litigation for locals means that owning a patent or trade mark, for example, serves as a strong deterrent for would-be infringers. When it comes to high-tech, it is often difficult for locals to compete by reverse engineering and/or manufacturing high-tech products. These deterrents are important for Asian companies entering the African market, particularly where a strong market presence is not yet established.

In some cases, competitors can be other foreign companies (not locals) seeking entry to the African market. Although such market penetration may be sought with a competing product, there have been instances where one company's IP was copied in African jurisdictions where IP protection was not sought by the original IP owner. This meant that the IP was exploited by a competitor in African countries without any remuneration to the original IP proprietor.

If the IP owner is not interested in operations in Africa, the opportunity for licencing IP to local parties or even other foreign parties remains. The relatively low cost of obtaining IP protection in Africa, in comparison to other jurisdictions, and the potential for foreign exploitation of IP in Africa, means IP protection in Africa should be a serious consideration. 

For these reasons, it is important for Asian companies to protect their IP across the African continent. Smit & Van Wyk can assist with filing IP in Africa.

Originally published 17 August, 2021

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