In an effort to contain the recent upsurge in COVID 19 cases, the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe announced a 30 day nationwide lockdown which commenced on 05 January 2021. During this time and going forward, it has become important for owners to consider how best to protect their IP assets. The following information is intended to assist owners in understanding the current restrictions imposed due to COVID 19 as well as their options for registration to protect their brands.

The Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Office (ZIPO)

The lockdown requires that all public activities cease and most commercial enterprises close, with exception for only essential services such as groceries, health and related facilities. Although not specifically mentions, courier services remain operational. Most government offices including those of ZIPO will be closed during this period. ZIPO does not currently have an online or eservice facilities for applications, filing of documents or payments. As such, and it is expected that any deadline during this time period will automatically be extended until the first business day after the re-opening of offices (which was the rule applied during the previous lockdown periods).

Although ZIPO includes all aspects of IP, i.e., trademarks, patents and industrial designs for many years it has primarily been used by owners for registration of trademarks. Although the office still performs functions of renewal and other post grant procedure for prior registered patents and designs, almost all new application for patents and designs are filed at the African Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) which is headquartered in Harare.

In any event, prior to the announcement of the recently imposed lockdown, the ZIPO office has not been functioning at full capacity for several months due a breakdown of the Industrial Property Automation System (IPAS) system. Unfortunately, the government has thus far been unable to replace or repair the equipment. Whilst we have been able to file documents for applications, obtain date stamps and government payment receipts, the applications have not been processed and in case of new applications no filing numbers can be assigned. At the beginning of 2021, the problem had not been resolved. As such the applications which were filed in 2020 during the breakdown of the IPAS system will have to be assigned filing numbers for 2021 when the system is finally restored unless government discovers a way to revise the IPAS system.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO)

ARIPO which is headquartered in Zimbabwe, will not be affected very much with the imposed lockdown as ARIPO has online, e-service platform through which all applications will continue to be filed by our office. Their officers have closed and no in person meetings with staff since March 2020. However, they have been operating remotely and agents have been able to communicate with them through online, e-service, email and telecommunications. The only aspect of service which will now be affected is the pick up of original documents from their office which will cease until the lockdown expires. But those documents are available through eservice and/ or scan copy sent by email. ARIPO has issued an official statement clarifying that their offices will remain closed in line with the Government directive and provided re-assurance of their capacity to continue to fully operate remotely during the lockdown period.

Considering the operational challenges currently being experienced at ZIPO related to both the lockdown and the breakdown of equipment, clients who desire to file new applications for trademark registration in Zimbabwe are encouraged to consider filing at ARIPO. There are several advantages to filing through ARIPO. As previously advised, ARIPO has an e-service system and their staff are working remotely using that system, email and telecommunications. Accordingly, when an application is filed, ARIPO will provide an official filing number and date and once formalities have been met, ARIPO will transmit the application to Zimbabwe for examination. If ZIPO does not state any objection to the application within 9 months, ARIPO will publish it for opposition as pending registration and after 3 months, if no opposition, the mark will be deemed to be registered and the applicant can ask for the Certificate of Registration.

Zimbabwe has fully incorporated the ARIPO Banjul Protocol Rules into local legislation; therefore, the registration through ARIPO is enforceable in terms of the laws of Zimbabwe. It is also cost effective. If only Zimbabwe is designated, there will be very little difference in the costs for one mark in one class and indeed for one mark in more than one class the costs will be significantly less since ARIPO allows multiclass applications whereas ZIPO does not.

The African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI)

OAPI which is headquartered in Cameroon has remained open and operational throughout the pandemic but subject to the COVID-19 restrictions. For example, all applications, documents and communications must be submitted through a lodging box which has been placed at the entrance of their building for drop off and collection. Access to the OAPI offices and meetings with staff are suspended until further notice.

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.