Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Afro Leo

INTA's 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting Goes Virtual

The International Trademark Association (INTA) announced today that it will be transforming its 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting in November into an all-virtual event, in response to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, INTA announced that it would hold a first-ever combined Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting on November 1620 in Houston, Texas, but that it would continue monitoring COVID-19 to determine the viability of an in-person event.  Earlier, when the health crisis first emerged, the Association postponed the original 2020 Annual Meeting in Singapore, which would have taken place last month.
With the virtual format, the Annual Meeting will remain November 1620; during the prior week, on November 1113, committee meetings and Leadership Meeting sessions for INTA volunteers will be scheduled. Registration will open in early July.
In switching to the online event, like with earlier changes, INTA continues to prioritize the health and safety of members, staff, sponsors, exhibitors, and the community. It has also taken into consideration members’ budget and travel restraints and concerns, among other factors.
“Cancelling the Annual Meeting has not been an option for us,” said INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo. “While the path here has come with a heavy heart, we believe this forward-looking approach is the safest option right now and keeps registrants’ best interests in mind. Moreover, we are excited about the prospect of not only bringing our community together again, but doing so in a new and innovative way, on a secure and engaging platform.”
The virtual meeting will include live, simulated-live, and on-demand educational sessions, multiple networking opportunities, an interactive Exhibit Hall, and many of the same features registrants have come to expect at INTA’s in-person gatherings, such as Table Topics and Speed Networking.
Mr. Sanz de Acedo noted that the new format “aligns with INTA’s digital transformation and pioneers a future that incorporates virtual offerings into our in-person events.”
Watch the video announcement here.
Whilst the annual rendezvous will be missed as a wonderful opportunity to catch up with colleagues and clients face to face, this is also an opportunity as it means that the conference becomes more accessible for Africans that often find the content cost prohibitive or exclusive to partners within firms. It will be interesting to learn more about the format and just how firms respond with their own initiatives. 

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Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Afro Leo

AFRO-LIVE delivers insights from Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town

The CCC Series continues with conversations with Isaac, Chijioke and Caroline about their experiences and views over lockdown:

Isaac speaks to us about COVID life in Kenya. How people are finding it challenging to shift work productivity when they are used to it working another way but at the same time are taking a turn to the arts such as cooking and poetry. "Develop your artistic side", he says.

In this podcast, Chijioke explains what it is like to be locked down in Nigeria. She chats about her own personal experiences and how the creative industry is coping with COVID. She also shares her own tips about how to cope with the COVID crisis...

Caroline explains how she is dealing with Covid19 in Cape Town on both a mirco and macro level. As a member of the higher education industry, she touches on copyright and how it effects us as we move our teaching online and adopt remote learning.

You can listen them to over on the AFRO-Live tab on the website or by clicking here.

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Friday, 17 April 2020


CovidFighter: an innovation assessment

An anaesthetist with a MBA, a sports physician and an entrepreneur get together on a zoom call during lockdown. A week later they have developed CovidFighter, an online screening test for Covid-19 with a national tracking purpose. They reach out to Afro-IP to canvass the innovation and Afro-Buff takes up the challenge.
I am generally feeling fine but struggling with seasonal sneezes from rolling in the love grass and a sore throat from the chilly autumnal air. With all the conversation around Covid-19 I had become concerned, perhaps paranoid, that I had picked up the disease. I entered my date of birth – the last week of 2007 – accepted the terms of use and followed the easy steps to self-screening.

There you go, I am not paranoid after all.
From an innovation standpoint, CovidFighter is a classic example of enterprise resulting from adversity illustrating that tough times lead to innovation. A welcome aspect of Covidfighter is that the code has been made available to others wanting to use it, through GetHub’s open source platform here. This means that other are available to use the code and copyright under a GPL -3.0 license.
The brand name is communicative yet probably has a modicum of distinctiveness allowing it to be registered. Of course, right now the online trade mark platform at CIPC is closed and it is not possible for the initiative to register and protect the name or search to see if they would infringe anyone else’s rights. This is a problem because it places undue risk on the innovators. The public interest in this is also clear, if there is any confusion resulting from conflicting brand names and this product is as successful as it is hoped to be, damage could be done.
Curious to establish if this type of innovation has been attempted anywhere else, I stumbled across the CDC self help bot on its website (the CDC is the equivalent of the NCID in the US) through this CNN article on testing priorities in the US. I took the test which asked similar questions and revealed that if I were a US citizen, I would need to harden up a bit and did not require a test, just yet. It may be that bison are tougher than buffalo or the NCID underestimates RSA's testing capabilities.

The CovidFighter initiative is however, more than just a self screen test, the data behind it will be used for a national and perhaps an international purpose. This is indicated in its terms of use (unlike the CDC chatbot) and is transparent. It will be interesting to see whether the public, in this time of solidarity and need, trust the government enough for the initiative to successful. To find out more about CovidFighter click here.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Afro Chic

Pay a little more, hurt a little less - Sale of counterfeit goods highlighted by social activist

Yusuf Abramjee, a leading social activist based in South Africa pictured alongside, recently published this article in which he bemoaned the state of the economy on account of the widely-prevalent social ill of the peddling of counterfeit goods. Abramjee indicated that South Africa loses R100 billion (around $5,5 million) a year due to sale of these goods, which could be used to improve basic services for the poor and vulnerable members of our society.

The effects of the sale of counterfeit goods are indeed far-reaching and require a targeted and specific approach. Afro-Chic will examine the scope of the problem and its overall impact on economies holistically as well as upon the average man on the street who may not know that his desire for a bargain is ultimately contributing to poverty and inequality.

First we have to ask ourselves what problems the sale of counterfeit goods are. Abramjee outlined the social issues but these are a knock-on effect of other underlying catalysts. An article by Williams (2018) provides a useful summation in this regard, citing that, loss of economic activity and revenue of a country and worldwide, supporting the illicit market, that genuine and legitimate employment is lost, that innovation is discouraged and that foreign investment is lost.

Statistics surrounding sale of counterfeit goods vary across different sources. A very reliable source perhaps is the World Trademark Review, which drew its numbers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union Intellectual Property Office and their respective reports on the matter done in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Their statistics relate to trades made across borders globally (as opposed to nationally, which represent higher figures such as the R100 billion of which Abramjee describes) and the figures provided are projections forecasted for 2022. Some of them are the following:

• Total international trade in counterfeit goods: $991 billion
• Total value in counterfeit and pirated goods: $1.9 trillion- $2.33 trillion
• Displacement of legitimate economic activity: $980 billion- $1.224 trillion
• Estimated reduction in foreign investment: $231 billion
• Total wider economic and social costs: $155 trillion- $1.87 trillion
• Total Employment losses: 4.2 million-5.4 billion

As is clear from the above, urgent steps must be taken to address the issue surrounding the sale of counterfeit goods. As pointed out by Nkateko Mabasa (2018), it is also a cause of xenophobia in South Africa, with a counterfeit goods operation leading to a violent uprising in 2018. Abramjee proposes numerous solutions in the South African context. These include:

• Campaigning and advocacy surrounding the issue
• A tip-off line 
• Proper funding for specialised units dealing with this issue

Constant vigilance is required to ensure that this problem is eradicated the world over. We must all work together to ensure that we do not support those dealing in counterfeit goods so as to ameliorate the plight of the poor. It is through honesty and integrity and yes, the pains of paying a little extra for an item or two, that we can ensure our economy is not subjected to the plight projected above.

Afro Leo agrees, "It is notable that the effect of counterfeit goods has the attention of one of Africa's leading social activists elevating the awareness of the problem from an esoteric one known only to those in the fields of brand protection. As we know on this blog, the issue is Africa's single largest IP problem. Thanks Yusuf and Afro-Chic for highlighting it in a social context"

Brought to you by Afro-Chic

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Thursday, 9 April 2020

Darren Olivier

Covid Predicting - To Boldly Go Where You Have Not Been Before.

Right now, trying to understand the financial effect of Covid-19 on one’s trade mark practice may be as futile as predicting the murderer in an Agatha Christie novel and it’s certainly not as fun. One also does not have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the twists as they play out. Livelihoods and businesses are quite obviously at stake. This exercise in apparent futility has therefore become necessary. Fortunately there are benchmarks and characteristics of a trade mark practice that one can use to assist attempt this. I approach it from a South Africa perspective but it may be useful for other countries, particularly developing countries.

We know the following:
  • Traditional trade mark practices, especially in countries like South Africa that have not adapted to regional or international filing or multi class systems, strongly rely on filing numbers for their well-being.
  • Filings have a knock-on effect within the business and movements can be felt even decades into the future in renewal departments. Depending on examination and publication time rates they can be used to predict income in short and the medium term. They also tend to underpin opposition-based practices (more about this later).
  • National trade mark filings are closely in tune with movements in global share price indices. Both the .com fall in 2001 and the 2008 financial crisis reflected in the S&P financial index, lead to almost identical declines in trade mark filings at the major registries. But for a short lag, filings dropped and rebounded in unison with the index. This is illustrated below. The Covid crisis has shown itself though, to be more severe.

    S&P Index 1999-2015 (Wikipedia)
    Trade Mark Filings Africa (WIPO)

    Trade Mark Filings South Africa (WIPO)

    Trade Mark Filings USA (WIPO)
  • Emerging market economies, like South Africa, are generally harder hit than developed economies because they are a net importer of IP and are consequently at risk of greater movements in filings albeit that the graphs above indicate that the effect on trade mark filings is almost equal.
  • Movements in GDPs (mostly calculated every quarter) are typically predicated by stock indices and foreign exchange rates which provide a more immediate indication of a trend. However, they can also be volatile in the short term. Both are therefore useful benchmarks in understanding what will happen.
  • As the United States is still the largest filer of trade marks outside it borders, it stands to reason that developments in the US need to be monitored closely, including the effect of stimulus packages.
  • Most emerging markets are cushioned by their currency. Trade mark law firms tend to invoice in dollars or other relatively strong currencies. This generally means that a reduction in volume of filings is buffered by the foreign exchange gain in the dollar price per filing. Indeed, in bad times, IP firms often perform very well or at least benefit from the built-in hedge.
  • Large and long standing trade mark filing practices have a very diverse client base meaning that the vulnerability of one industry or sector is often balanced by the well being of another. Whilst Covid-19 almost certainly has universal impact, there are sectors that are likely to benefit. This is includes healthcare, food and agriculture, telecoms. 
  • The effect on contentious practices (oppositions, counterfeiting, litigation) in the short-medium term is more affected by direct austerity measures, delay and a reluctance to litigate unless necessary. Counterfeiting, on the other hand, is likely to increase especially in online trade. If there is a lockdown in the courts, this naturally slows down the litigation process and hence the flow of funds.
  • Well directed and efficient outsourcing practices stand to gain out of the pandemic. As price pressure rises within businesses, the need for more cost-effective solutions becomes paramount. The rapid drop in the exchange rate (caused by the pandemic and also by the Moody downgrade in the case of South Africa) create currency arbitrage that a trade mark practice could take advantage of.
  • Trade mark practices with strong local filing practices can expect declines in their business in line with economic trends in South Africa and do not have as much to gain from the currency weakening (indeed foreign licenses for databases and management software have just become significantly more expensive). This is so unless the client base happens to focus on sectors that are niche and resilient.
  • The effect of digital transformation driven by home-based lockdowns, the reduction or cancellation of expensive overseas trips for business conferences in the short term and the need for effective online marketing create both opportunities and risks for business that affect bottom line.
  • More resource and cost will be required to chase debtors and manage cash flow as lock-up periods increase, companies go out of business and pressure is bought to bear on firms by long standing clients trying to manage their own cash flows. Leadership also comes at a price as partners will be required to spend more time leading, communicating and managing their teams more effectively.
  • Among all this turmoil and possible gloom, is the realisation that this is a pandemic, which by its very nature, is global problem. We are all in it together. Unlike many other businesses, a diverse trade mark filing practice is generally resilient, representative (every business has a trade mark), delivered online and capable of export. These are very fortunate advantages to have.
  • Remember that any trade mark firm that has routinely attempted to predict its currency volatility for budgeting and hedging purposes has been humbled many times. This prediction has similar unknowns.
  • At some point in time, economies will bounce back. This is reflected in the performance in the Rand after extreme undervalued levels. Those in the "know" appear to be predicting that this could occur as early as the third quarter of 2021.

Having said all this, what is the practical solution to determining the impact on one’s own business from a fee perspective only? This is a formula one could try:

Step one: obtain your client list and fees per client, separate it between local and overseas based clients. You could also split it into US and other for the overseas based clients.

Step two: identify any clients who you think may benefit or partly benefit. It is not likely to be many. You can do this based on your knowledge of their business, by analysing their share price or even asking them. The rest will decline. If the client is another law firm, try to assess who they represent and perhaps their own financial standing or vulnerability.

Step three: try and identify by how much they will decline or increase. Ideally you would want to do this for every client but if this is not possible, separate them out into sectors, find an appropriate benchmark (again share prices in those sectors may be useful) and mark that against each of the clients in those sectors. The Goldman Sachs bar graph above could be helpful.

Step four: for the overseas based clients include the currency hedge. If the Rand does bounce back as is predicted, it is likely that the economic effects of Covid will also have tapered off.

Step five: factor in aspects like a lag effect (given the dramatic drop off this might not be much), any areas of work that you may know, for other reasons, could profitable e.g. any outsourcing, adjusted fee losses (time spent elsewhere) for additional marketing, debt control or management, and then add a dose of just plain common sense.



Make a prediction.
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