Although Rwanda is said to be one of the world's poorest countries, it is among the most forward- and outwardlooking of developing nations. It joined the Commonwealth in November 2009 and is pursuing a structured policy of economic development. Integral to that plan is the Rwanda Development Board ("RDB"), which is described on its own website as "evidence that Rwanda is open for business" and "a one-stop-shop for all investors". Intellectual property (IP) is a major part of RDB's functions, which also include trade, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, conservation and investment opportunities.

RDB's Rôle

RDB is responsible for administering the 2009 Law on the Protection of IP ("the Law"). The Law is a composite code, based on the familiar World IP Organisation ("WIPO") model. It provides for patents, utility models, industrial designs, trade marks and names, geographical indications, integrated circuit designs and measures against unfair competition, as well as copyright and related rights. Officially, the Law came into effect on the date of publication, which was 14 December 2009. At the time, it was unsupported by the regulations, forms and fees that are normally considered essential for the working of new legislation. As a consequence, the Law's requirements were not immediately brought into full force.

RDB was nevertheless determined that the Law's principal features should become effective with minimum delay. Accordingly, since the publication date, RDB has implemented many aspects by executive decisions, even while formal Regulations are awaited. RDB has created templates of application for grant or registration of patents, trade marks and other rights, as well as certificates of grant or registration and other "prescribed" forms and procedures. It has also issued a table of official fees.

Features of Law and Practice

Main features of the Law and current practice include:

  • English is now an official working language of RDB. French, which was the sole medium of communication, is still permissible.
  • Powers of attorney are still required for new applications and post-registration recordals. They need not be legalised or notarised.
  • Definitions and requirements for patentability or registrability of marks and other rights correspond to Trade- Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPS) criteria. Specifically:
    • Absolute novelty is necessary for patents, utility model and industrial design registrations.
    • Categories of trade marks include certification and collective marks.
    • Colour, 3-dimensional and packaging marks are registrable but sounds, smells and moving marks are not mentioned.
  • National exhaustion of rights applies; infringement proceedings may not be brought in respect of products which have been put lawfully on the market in Rwanda, either by the owner of the right or with his consent.
  • The Law provides for examination, publication and opposition of trade mark and geographical indication applications. Currently, trade mark applications are being examined on relative grounds. On the other hand they are not published and no opportunity for opposition is available.
  • Terms and renewals:
    • The duration of a patent is 20 years and that of a utility model certificate is ten years. The maximum term of an industrial design registration is 15 years subject to renewal after five and ten years.
    • Pre-existing patents remain effective for the rest of their respective 20-year terms.
    • Pre-existing designs remain effective for the rest of their respective three- or ten-year terms.
    • Annuities are payable on pre-existing patents as well as new-law patents and utility models.
    • The duration of a new-law trade mark registration is ten years, indefinitely renewable for the same term.
    • All trade marks, previously registered for indefinite terms, are scheduled for renewal in 2019. Few owners seem likely to exercise an option for earlier renewal. Rwandan officials are aware that this provision would create major problems in 2019 and it may be changed as a result.

International Relationships

  • Rwanda does not subscribe to the Madrid arrangements for international trade mark registration, nor to that portion of the African Regional IP Organization ("ARIPO") arrangements which relate to trade marks (the Banjul Protocol).
  • The country acceded on 22 May 2011 to:
    • The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
    • The Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (The Hague).
    • The Lusaka Agreement creating ARIPO and its Protocol on Patents, Utility Models and Designs (Harare Protocol).
  • Those arrangements are stated to enter into force, with respect to Rwanda, on 22 August 2011.
  • The accessions to PCT, the Hague and ARIPO (Harare) may assist in enhancing awareness of patent and industrial design protection in Rwanda; there has been limited interest hitherto in these fields of IP.
  • The Law does not refer specifically to PCT, the Hague or ARIPO but has the general stipulation that:
    The provisions of any international IP treaty to which the Republic of Rwanda is party shall apply, and in case of conflict with the provisions of the Law, the provisions of the international treaty shall prevail over the latter.
  • We are currently discussing with the authorities and practitioners, the effects which those specific treaties will have upon the procedures of RDB.
  • Rwanda's prominence in international and regional deliberations is reflected in a Workshop on the Role of the Judiciary in the Enforcement of IP, conducted at Kigali from 6 to 8 June 2011, facilitated by the United States Commercial Law Development Program and attended by over 80 participants including diplomats, judges, academics, practitioners and officials from East Africa, the USA and elsewhere. The final communiqué should be accessible via / > Announcements > Final communique for the IP conference.

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