Friday, 20 February 2009

Anti-Counterfeits conference held in Kampala

Africa Matters, a consultancy firm headed by Baroness Lynda Chalker recently organized an Anti- Counterfeits conference in Kampala, Uganda.

The workshop departs from previous Intellectual property related workshops in its direct focus on what is increasingly becoming a menace to legitimate business, health and safety. This is in part because of the increasing concerns about the dangers of counterfeits as pointed out by the Presidential Investors Round Table(PIRT) in Uganda inn 2007 and 2008.

President Yoweri Museveni opened the conference by warning of the dire impact of counterfeits on the economy. According to the Monitor report, "Mr Museveni said he would be comfortable employing the harsh communist Chinese strategy of hanging culprits who profiteer from counterfeit goods, to deter individuals from indulging in illicit trade". As if to emphasize how challenging the situation is, Ms. Chalker asserted that "more than half the anti-malaria medicines in Africa are counterfeit".

One of the positive remarks made was a statement by the Minister of Trade, Tourism & Industry who stated that the Anti-Counterfeits Bill, 2009 will be presented to cabinet soon. Under the proposed law, anyone found in possession of counterfeit goods will be liable to a 5 year jail sentence.

On the other hand, "individuals who manufacture, produce or make the counterfeit goods, will be liable to paying a fine 10 times the value of the genuine goods, an order of permanent closure of business premises and a jail sentence". These provisions go over and above the existing provisions. However, the potential good of this legislation will depend on the willingness of Judicial officers to implement the stiff penalties under the law.

Overall, these are positive noises for brand owners.

The downside is that at the same conference, it was reported that Sara Lee, manufacturers of the famous Kiwi shoe Polish will be ceasing manufacturing in Kenya and a few other African countries due to incessant counterfeiting. In a way, this sad story underscores the fact that trademark registration alone is insufficient to protect certain popular consumer brands. Governments such as the Ugandan government need to assist trademark owners by strengthening customs measures, quickening judicial interventions and training law enforcement officers.

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