HomeOpinion & AnalysisUnderstanding the need to protect patents

Understanding the need to protect patents

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BY FREEMAN MAKOPA
ON April 27, 2022, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (Aripo) and the Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project in Africa (AfrIPI) hosted a workshop on designs and utility models for Aripo member States meant to raise awareness, provide training and promote Aripo’s regional system for registering designs and utility model trends in various Aripo and European jurisdictions.

“A utility model is also known as a “petty patent”. While a patent requires complicated technical requirements to secure legal rights, a utility model is suitable for inventions involving less technical input. A utility model must be new and useful. Most utility models consist of technical improvements to products or processes that provide a practical use or new effects.

The workshop is aligned with Aripo’s mission of fostering creativity and innovation for socio-economic growth of the member States through an effective Intellectual Property System. Though the utility models and designs have the capacity to uplift communities through creating employment, there are a lot of unregistered utility models around the world.

However, registering a design ensures that the person or entity that owns the design is assured  of an exclusive right against unauthorised copying or imitation of the design by third parties. The assurance of legal protection encourages investments in the creation of new designs by making it unlawful for third parties that have not contributed to the design process to benefit from the creativity of others.

Furthermore, Intellectual Property Rights refer to a wide range of assets, such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, plant varieties or geographical indications. From a company brand to furniture design, all these products and creations can be protected. Each intellectual property right has its own characteristics and type of protection that it confers.

Therefore, it is very important for innovators and businesses to identify what potential intellectual property assets they own and know how best to protect them, as oftentimes it is their most valuable asset.

A strong intellectual property environment will boost the participation of African countries in the world’s economy. It will also stimulate innovation and competitiveness in the private sector. Therefore, sound national IP rights systems are the backbone of innovative countries, thus favouring economic growth.

Aripo director-general Bemanya Twebaze said there were more than 4 million utility models in the world, but very few of them were registered.

“As the Aripo region, we find ourselves in a uniquely advantageous position because it is not every country or region where utility models are protected. In Aripo, utility models, together with industrial designs, already have a robust instrument, the Harare Protocol. According to statistics, the total number of utility models in the world is about 4 million and although we know we have lots of these models in our farms, firms, and in our villages, very few are formally registered or protected.

Utility model products are inextricably linked to our SMEs and have the capability of uplifting our communities from unemployment. We are a creative and problem-solving society and because of that, I see endless opportunities in utility models and industrial designs for the continent,” he said.

Aripo has over the years adopted and implemented various intellectual property protocols that govern the grant, registration and administration of various intellectual property rights on behalf of member States that are party to the various protocols and whose national laws recognise such intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property rights granted or registered in Aripo under its various protocols are subject to the national laws of member States on compulsory licences, forfeiture, cancellation, use of in the public interest, cancellation or invalidation.

AfrIPI project leader Dennis Scheirs highlighted that having intellectual property rights allows innovation centres to grow thereby contributing to African economies.

“This workshop links innovators of more than 20 African countries with the intellectual property offices of these countries. This will further boost innovation in the region, as the protection of their industrial property rights will allow the innovation centres to prosper, grow, and contribute to African economies. As AfrIPI, we are delighted to facilitate workshops like these that favourably contribute to Africa’s economies and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development,” he said.

Scheirs added that there were four main components that AfrIPI  helped its partners with.

“AfrIPI has four main components. The first component is the promotion of international IP frameworks and the IP Chapter negotiations of AfCFTA agreement. We have one of our long-term experts based in Accra to give full-time support to the African Union secretariat in conducting these negotiations. The second component is about capacity building. This component mainly focuses on IT tools that can bring efficiency gains and increased transparency and examination guidelines that bring increased quality decisions. The third component is the awareness of IP for African SMEs.

“Only a few African SMEs are aware of the advantages that IP can bring to them and how it can make their businesses stronger. The fourth component is dedicated to geographical indications. An example of this is the French champaigne or the Cameroonian Penja Pepper or the goat meat Cabrito de Tete in Mozambique,” he said.

They are local products that obtain their characteristics by being produced in a specific geographical area and can, therefore, really boost the local economy when properly exploited and protected.

However, industrial designs, also under Harare Protocol, are more of the ornamental or aesthetic aspects which make the items more appealing thus enhancing their commercial value. The term might sound abstract but the designers are the architects, visual art professionals, car designers, and others. The designs do not protect intangible goods that are not visible to the eye.

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