Saturday, 23 April 2011

Kenya - IP workshop - Hurry!


Kyle Jensen has nudged Afro Leo about an IP workshop in Kenya on 23 May 2011. According to the program:

"This workshop is a 1-day, high-level overview of IP strategy designed for executives from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The event is co-organized by KIPI, the USPTO, WIPO, the non-profit PIPRA. The expert presenters will give the audience a practical, nuts-and-bolts overview of how SMEs can best identify, protect, and monetize their intangible assets."

Afro Leo has participated in workshops facilitated by Kyle and they are not worth missing. Good fun, entertaining and informative! Space is limited, hurry - click here for more details.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Tanzania palaver marks World IP Day.

Afro Leo has learned with pleasure that the Tanzania Intellectual Property Rights Network (TIP-Net) is organizing an intellectual Property IP palaver (to mark World IP Day) in Arusha, Tanzania on 30 April 2011. The theme of the palaver is "Designing the future: towards harmonization of IP laws of the East African Community Member States"

For details contact William Kivuyo by email here or by text message to +255 767 379 986/+255 656 379 986.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

OCIPE - more than a rebrand but doubts remain

The new Companies and Intellectual Property Commission was official launched in Midrand yesterday by the Trade and Industry Department spearheaded by Minister Rob Davies, who described the move as a milestone in the regulation of companies and business entities in South Africa according to a press release from the Government Communication and Information System, which goes on to say:

With significantly expanded functions and powers, the new commission will combine the Office of Companies and Intellectual Property Enforcement (OCIPE) and Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO). It is expected to guide the implementation of the new Companies Act, which comes into effect in May.


Administrative functions currently assigned to the minister under the Companies Act, are to be placed within the jurisdiction of the commission and it will act as an autonomous statutory body outside the public service.


"I'm satisfied that the commission is in a state of readiness ... [I] am convinced it is a better step for South Africa ... When we bring into force this legislation, we will be bringing to South Africans top notch legislation," Davies said.


He said the commission and the Act will simplify the process of company registration, as well as mordenise business administration.


"We need to move from where we are in the interest of good governance and this piece of legislation will help us in this regard. As we implement, we will sort out any problems that may arise. We will learn by doing," said the minister.


The Act also introduces a number of new responsibilities, which CIPRO currently does not perform, but will be performed by the new commission. These include pro-active enforcement measures by way of compliance notices served on defaulting companies, investigations of all complaints and contraventions of the Act and investigating the affairs of companies.


Davies denounced criticism that the new commission would be CIPRO - just under a new name. "Our intention is to actually ease processes so it won't be business as usual. We are aware that there will be challenges at first but what we can assure businesspeople is that things will be totally different from now on."


The process of reorganising CIPRO and retraining of staff had taken more than a year of intensive work, according to the department's Deputy Director General, Zodwa Ntuli.


The department's former Deputy Director General Astrid Ludin has been appointed to lead the commission and will be assisted by several deputy commissioners.


Ludin said: "The challenge for the commission will be to make sure that we have systems in place that will ensure that we deliver on the simplicity that we promise to companies. Together, we will work hard to achieve an institution that will be a vehicle for business enterprises in this country."

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Coincidentally, yesterday Afro Leo spent an hour with colleagues discussing the effect of the new legislation and Commission on the company name objection process, a crucial part of a company's IP policy. Until this legislation was in place CIPRO did not cross-check against the trade mark register when company names were requested. This is set to change but there are questions on whether OCIPE has the manpower and resource to do this effectively. Companies are expected to maintain their name objection watches.

Other changes include the scrapping of time limits to company name objection procedures, an update on the grounds of cancellation and a change to process for reserving and approving names. Click here for more information. Perhaps a reader could tell us whether OCIPE is itself a registered trade mark.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Vodacom Re-brand: Seeing Red

Vodacom, RSA’s market leader in the cellular network space with a market share of 58% and 23 million customers (Wikipedia), is undergoing a major re-brand from its traditional blue/green to red. If you live in RSA, you cannot miss it - it is just as well that you do not have to stop your car on the way to work, every time a billboard goes red. However, it is worth pausing, even if the colour is red and not orange.


The rebrand is not just a marketing tinker. It is the much-talked about and delayed alignment of Vodacom’s branding with its parent company in the UK, Vodafone. It’s really a partial re-brand for the time being; Vodafone’s red and "apostrophe" are now evident but the name Vodacom remains, revealing a measure of caution and for good reason too.

Red is a primary, powerful colour but the colour also has other connotations. A fight breaks out during a school rugby derby between an English school that plays in red and an Afrikaans school playing in brown. The headlines the next day refer to the Anglo-Boer war and the annual fixture is subsequently cancelled. It’s a knee jerk reaction but powerful if the colour connotation sticks. Vodafone are looking to spread their influence over Africa where anti-colonial feelings can be very strong. Using red has obvious risks for the UK giant.

Locally, Vodacom sponsors the Blue Bulls based in Pretoria, where the company has a significant subscriber base. The Lions who play in a red/white strip are based in nearby Johannesburg. Does Vodacom reconsider the sponsorship and risk marginalising the faithful or retain it, with all the mixed messages the dual branding could provoke? Vodacom’s sensitivity to this is illustrated in some of its re-branding adverts where the only blue that is retained on screen, depicts the Blue Bulls.

If anyone doubted the ability of a single colour to act as a badge of quality and origin ie function as a trade mark, this re-brand and Vodacom’s obvious advertising spend on educating customers to their new look should convert you. There are even rumours that Vodacom paid off competitor Cell C (whose branding had included red) not to enforce any residual rights they could prove in the colour, against them.

It is difficult to imagine the rumour being true although the telecoms space is no stranger to brand wars over colours. Afro-IP has reported on a number of them, mainly over the colour Orange (stop here! for more information on Neotel, Iburst and Orange Telecoms’ fight over the colour orange, and the difficulties protecting single colours). Now look around at Cell C and their new advertising campaign. It’s directed straight at Vodacom’s new branding and provoked Vodacom into lodging a complaint before the Advertising Standards Authority that the campaign is disparaging to their brand. Is it…or is it [also] just more exposure for both Cell C and Vodacom?



Monday, 11 April 2011

Bananas are great -- but what about wilt-free patents too?

"Fighting Africa's food deficit" is the title of this piece published online today in the World Intellectual Property Organization's WIPO Magazine for April 2011. Written by Alhaji Tejan-Cole (Legal Counsel for the African Agricultural Technology Foundation -- AATF), this article explains what the AATF is doing to help farmers in Africa increase productivity, profitability and sustainability to reverse the continent’s food deficit.

Regarding IP and research, the author writes:
"The Foundation is currently implementing five major projects, with several others in the pipeline. One of these is a project to control striga in maize. Also known as witchweed, striga is a parasitic weed that sucks nutrients from maize, reducing yields by up to 80 percent. AATF is promoting imazapyr-resistant (IR) (StrigAway®) non-transgenic maize seed, which has been shown to be effective against the weed, among farmers in East and Central Africa. The Striga Control Project is in its deployment stage, and AATF is working with key partners and a wide range of stakeholders to encourage farmers to test and adopt the technology. ...

The use of IR maize technology to control Striga leads to yields 38 to 82 percent higher than those currently obtained from traditional maize varieties. In Kenya, a conservative estimate indicates that, when adopted, the proposed technology will lead to an extra 62,000 tons of maize in Western Province alone. This translates into US$5.3 million per year using 2002 estimates of farm-gate prices for maize in Kenya.

AATF is also developing maruca-resistant cowpea varieties - which are currently being field tested under controlled conditions - to tackle the pod borer (maruca vitrata). This pest inflicts severe damage on crops of cowpea in farmers’ fields, resulting in yield losses of between 70 to 80 percent. Due to high prices, farmers cannot afford insecticide spraying, and those that do spray are often exposed to serious health hazards. By facilitating development of transgenic cowpea varieties resistant to the maruca pest, AATF hopes to minimize insecticide use and its harmful effects on health and the environment.

The Foundation has accessed, through a royalty-free patent licence, a gene conferring resistance to the maruca pod borer in cowpea, and is facilitating strict bio-safety regulatory compliance for its development and deployment in West Africa.

Yet another project seeks to improve the resistance of banana crops to bacterial wilt disease. Bananas and plantains are an important food source for over 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the East African highlands and most of the Great Lakes region, bananas are a major staple food and a source of income for over 50 million smallholder farmers.

With an annual output of some 16.4 million metric tons, the region produces about one-fifth of the world’s bananas, but many biotic and abiotic factors still greatly reduce productivity. In 2001, an outbreak of banana bacterial wilt in Uganda caused economic loss of some US$200 million.

Another initiative is the development of improved rice varieties. AATF has negotiated a patent licence for the technology with Arcadia Biosciences, which will perform plant transformation, greenhouse trials and field trials in the United States, then work with AATF-contracted researchers in Africa to transfer and adapt the technology.

The varieties developed will be nitrogen-efficient and salt-tolerant. They will accommodate the needs of farmers growing rice in the poorer highland soils with limited resources for fertilizers, as well as those growing rice in more saline lowland soils".
Says Afro Leo, while the rest of the world will be eagerly watching to see if these projects deliver their promised results -- and we fervently hope they will -- a small dedicated group of IP folk will be watching equally anxiously to see how AATF handles both IP which it licenses in and that which it creates and licenses out. Will its IP turn out to be as sustainable, renewable, generally beneficial and profitable as we hope? Is AATF getting the right sort of IP help and support, and enough of it, to make its work a success at all levels? Who is auditing its IP policy to make sure that all works out well? Can anyone let us know?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Invisib.ly Libyan

"There’s been a question as to what happens to .ly domains (i.e. the ones used by Bit.ly, Ad.ly and others) if these domain names are suddenly taken away by the Libyan government. As we wrote last Fall, vb.ly was seized by NIC.ly (the domain registry and controlling body for the Libyan domain space) because the content of the website was apparently in violation of Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law. Today, it appears that email subscription startup Letter.ly has lost its domain name as a direct result of the ongoing unrest and war in Libya." Leena Rao for TechCrunch ... Letter.ly Abrupt.ly Loses Domain Name As A Result Of The War In Libya.

The article illustrates the potential risk in using "cute" domains as a marketing strategy and the advantages (robust) and disadvantages (hen's teeth) of .coms and other GTLDs. If Africa (which potentially offers in excess of 50 country codes) wants to get in on the act of making money out of its domains or simply encourage businesses to use them as a viable local marketing tool (as opposed to, for eg a defensive registration pointing to a home site) then it will need to persuade marketers that they are reliable.

Monday, 4 April 2011

ECOWAS and the Community trade mark

Afro Leo is grateful to Kingsley Egbuonu (Postgraduate, Management of Intellectual Property, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary College , University of London) for putting together this useful piece of guidance on the extent to which some African countries have made use of Europe's Community trade mark system -- which has just celebrated its 15th birthday.  Kingsley has focused on the ECOWAS countries.  As he explains:

Brief overview of ECOWAS

Established by a treaty signed in Lagos (Nigeria) on 28 May 1975, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional group of fifteen countries (Member States) with a mission to promote economic integration in “all fields of economic activity….” within the region. Almost identical to the EU in terms of its aspirations i.e. (an internal common market), its institution comprises of the Commission, Community Parliament, Community Court of Justice and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID). Strategically, its two main institutions -- the Commission and the Bank -- are designed to implement policies, pursue priority programmes and carry out pressing development projects in Member States.

Intellectual property features in its policy agenda, albeit in the shadows, due to close cooperation with the EU in recent years (see eg here). To this end, it intends on further consultation in strengthening existing regional IPR(s) management organisations e.g. ARIPO and OAPI for English and French-speaking countries respectively (see here).

Current members        CTMs received/registered, Type and period
Benin …………………………    4/2 (majority = WORD MARK) – 2003-10
Burkina Faso  …………………   Unreported
Cape Verde …………………     2/2 (maj= 100% WORD MARK) 2000-10
Gambia ………………………    Unreported
Ghana …………………………  10/5 (majority = WORD MARK) 2001-11
Guinea ………………………… Unreported
Guinea-Bissau …………………..Unreported
Liberia ………………………… 23/19 (majority = WORD MARK) 1996-2010
Mali …………………………… 1/1 (majority = FIGURATIVE MARK) 2009-10
Niger …………………………   3/2 (maj. = 100% WORD MARK) 1999-2009
Nigeria ………………………… 44/31 (majority = FIGURATIVE MARK) 1998-2011
Senegal ………………………   14/5 (majority = FIGURATIVE MARK) 1999-2010
Sierra Leone …………………….Unreported
Togo ……………………………12/5 (majority = 50/50) – 2009 - 2011

Suspended member(s)
Côte d'Ivoire ……………………21/15 (majority = FIGURATIVE MARK) 1997-2010

Significance

Despite the overwhelming challenges faced by several sub-Saharan Africa countries, their undertakings (Large and SMEs) do value IPRs at domestic and/or international level. These figures however meager, still drives home the message that, the CTM is still the most convenient if not the best asset protection strategy for any undertaking looking to Europe.

As one would imagine, South Africa tops the chart outside West Africa with a whopping, 1,728 registered CTMs (majority = WORD MARK) from period 1998 – 2011.

Nigeria as the dominant force in West Africa as well as an N-11 country, is shown to value IPRs despite its shortcomings at domestic level. Undertakings from the financial and food sector were major proprietors. In addition, this evidence corresponds with the popularity of trade mark law and practice as compared to other IPRs.

Finally, readers would also like to note that the representatives for over half of the above CTM applications were based in the United Kingdom.

Comment

With its institutional framework or potential capacity, ECOWAS should be seen as the proper supra-national organization able to revamp and strengthen IPRs within its region. The EU model (with lessons learnt e.g. co-existence) may fit Africa at a regional level but not continental. Though the last thing anyone would like to see in practice is a Benelux (BOIP) type decision on genuine use.

Source: Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) website, accessed and correct as of 3 April 2011.

Friday, 1 April 2011

IPLESS, Homogenisation and Ambush Marketing

Often it takes crisis to create unity. Over the past few months Africa has witnessed the birth of a new state in Sudan and significant unrest in Egypt and Libya. Breaking news is that influential stakeholders in those countries have met with South African representatives to create a new regional IP system in Africa - IPLESS (Libya, Egypt, South Sudan and South Africa). A directive will shortly be drafted grounded on a need to homogenise (rather than harmonize) the laws and cultures of the member states, to create an efficient system for the registration and enforcement of IP across the territory. The directive will be known and the Homogenisation Directive and the hope is that it will be Africa's opportunity to lead IP developments not only in Africa but in the Middle East.


Other exciting news is that, following the cancellation of the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the new race will be held at the Kyalami race track in South Africa. South Africa has been chosen, in part, because it is expected that its favourable ambush marketing laws and no tolerance approach demonstrated during the Football World Cup will maximise profits for the organisations and sponsors (one of which includes Bavaria).