Thursday, 31 May 2012

Not the aardvark

It's not too late to submit an article or case note for the first edition of South Africa's ownIntellectual Property Law Journal. Submissions must be sent to editorIPLJ@uct.ac.za. Let's have a bumper issue!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Safaricom, mPesa and business method patents: another view

Victor Nzomo's IPKenya blog has attracted a good deal of interest, as have his Tweets at @IPKenya here.  In this Afro-IP post, Isaac Rutenberg takes the opportunity to draw attention to one of Victor's posts and, in so doing, to make a response to it. Isaac writes:
"Recently a post appeared (here) on the highly excellent blog IPKenya, to which I would like to respond. As background, I am a US patent lawyer now living and working in Kenya.

IPKenya comments on a story in Kenya’s Business Daily (here). Safaricom is being sued by the creator of M-Pesa for theft of his idea/invention. No patent was ever filed in Kenya, and none would have issued because Kenya does not allow business method patents or software patents. IPKenya wonders why the Safaricom suit has been referred to the Industrial Property Tribunal. This is an excellent question, and I suspect the case would not stay at the Tribunal for long. An appeal against the lower court’s ruling of lack of jurisdiction should properly be granted.

IPKenya argues that "the industrial property law must be re-examined in light of this mPesa case with the possibility of allowing grants of patents to be issued for business methods.” On this point I strongly disagree.

Having been involved in drafting business method patents, I can report that they are a tragic misuse of the patent system. I can make a very strong case for allowing patent protection of, say, pharmaceuticals or medical devices. I cannot think of any good arguments for allowing software or business method patents. They stifle innovation but, in the end, actually provide little protection for the patentee. They cause entrepreneurs to spend money and time on something relatively unimportant (getting patent protection) at the expense of what is truly important (building a brand name and a customer base).

In the case of mPesa, Kenya is FAR better off without Safaricom having a monopoly on the technology. Safaricom still makes money on mPesa, primarily because they were first to the market and they have a very large customer base. People use mPesa because it is widely accepted and trusted, not because it is the only service available. In fact, the creation and existence of similar services from other mobile carriers has, arguably, caused Safaricom to continue innovating and providing an improved service. This would not have happened had the process been patented.

I have never met a software designer or web developer in the US in favour of such patents, and most say that they hate them. The only people I know who like these patents are the lawyers who write them. I wish that the US would follow the Kenyan system, and not allow software and business method patents. I sincerely hope that they do not change the Kenyan patent law to allow them!

One final note. IPKenya identifies awareness creation as a pivotal role for KIPI and KECOBO (Kenya’s patent and copyright offices, respectively). I have been involved with KIPI and know that they are working hard to educate ordinary citizens, business people, universities, etc. KECOBO is doing the same. Much work has been done, but IPKenya is absolutely right - much more needs to be done. Thank you IPKenya for your work in this area!".
Afro Leo wonders how many practitioners and software designers share or dissent from Isaac's views. If you are one such person, do let us know!

A to Z of official African websites No.50: Togo

Although the sound of popping corks may be a little faint, since Togo's online IP infrastructure doesn't give much cause for celebration, Afro Leo is happy to celebrate the fact that Kingsley Egbuonu's marathon A to Z quest for official intellectual property sites in Africa has now reached its fiftieth post. Well done, Kingsley -- this has been a labour of love and of dedication.

This is what Kingsley has to say about Togo:
Overview
Togo is a Contracting Party to a number of treaties on intellectual property including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Togo is also a Member of the OAPI.

Copyright Office

• The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, Togolese Copyright Office is the competent office responsible for copyright and related rights in Togo. 
• The website for this office is www.butodra.org and it is in French.

Industrial Property Office

• The National Institute for Industrial Property and Technology (INPIT) is the competent office responsible for the administration of intellectual property rights in Togo.

• The office currently has no website.

Social Media Presence

None found.

Intellectual Property update in Togo

Afro-IP has reported on various developments of practical significance in recent times, including posts here and here
Conclusion 
Afro-IP found a website for the copyright office in Togo -- though it contains very little, and basic, information. The situation could be worse: to be fair, we have seen some OAPI members (here, here and here) and which lack even a single web page.

Like other countries in the continent, Togo has a diverse but rich culture and heritage here and here which require protection. It has produced one of finest in Africa – The late Paul Ahyi.

We hope to see Togo take intellectual property awareness seriously for the benefit of its future creators and innovators.
Kingsley tweets as @IPinAfrica

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

South Africa - IP in action

A few IP snippets relating to IP in RSA attracting Afro Leo’s attention this week:
Mergers and acquisitions involving foreign investment in South African companies are growing significantly as foreign investors see SA as a springboard into the rest of Africa. However, they come with certain risks, which some believe warrant the introduction of a specialised insurance product [especially for the intellectual property risk].” BusinessDay
Afro Leo thinks that the risk is overstated. Register your IP, get good advice, be vigilant and it’s no more risky than other developing nations, for most African nations.
BankservAfrica, Africa's largest automated clearing house, has invested in the local payment industry and the growth of the sector by awarding two payment companies a combined interest-free loan to the value of R1.2 million. To this effect we will use some of the funds to assist in patenting the intellectual property developed around very specific payment products.” BusinessReport
Afro Leo thinks that it is encouraging that IP is high on the budget sheet when new funding comes in.
PetroSA launches SA’s first academic fuel research centre. The R36m facility, named the PetroSA Synthetic Fuels Innovation Centre, will be a hub for the company’s gas-to-liquid research. PETROSA’s first academic fuel research centre would not only improve the company’s gas-to-liquid processes, but also increase SA’s intellectual property, University of Western Cape (UWC) vice-chancellor Brian O’Connell said at the launch on Wednesday.” BusinessDay
“ Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill currently in the in-tray of South African President Jacob Zuma and awaiting a signature, holds the hope that it will finally pave the way for the protection of the country’s most famous red tea, Rooibos, as well as other local staples. IPWatch
Afro Leo thinks that these are two good news stories for those in government seeking to promote IP and kick start a tech transfer industry under NIPMO in RSA.
And, take look at Myows -  RSA’s own collaboration of diverse talents seeking to protect and enforce copyright for creatives. Nice work gents.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A to Z of official African websites No.49: Tanzania

Nearly 50!  Today Kingsley Egbuonu reports for the 49th time on the state of official intellectual property websites in Africa's many jurisdictions. This alphabetical tour now takes him to 'T' for Tanzania -- and this is what Kingsley has to say about it:
Overview

Tanzania is a Contracting Party to a number of treaties on intellectual property including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Tanzania is also a Member State of ARIPO.

Copyright Office

• The Copyright Society of Tanzania (COSOTA) is the competent office responsible for copyright and related rights in Tanzania. 
• The website for this office is www.cosota-tz.org.

Industrial Property Office

• The Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA) is the competent office responsible for the administration of intellectual property rights in Tanzania. 
• The website for this office is www.brela-tz.org

Social Media Presence

None found.

Intellectual Property update in Tanzania

Afro-IP has reported on various developments of practical significance in recent times including  here and here.

Conclusion

Afro-IP found useful and functioning websites for both IP offices in Tanzania; however, while BRELA’s website is up-to-date, COSOTA’s isn’t. Nevertheless, we do at least have something positive to draw from when compared to other members of ARIPO, as highlighted during our visit to Swaziland here. We also learnt that UK design rights owners can extend their rights to Tanzania. The country seems to be on the right track, but it still has more to do online.
Kingsley tweets as @IPinAfrica

"Building Global South African Brands" by Brand Finance

Oliver Schmitz, Managing Director of Brand Finance's South African operation, has reminded Afro Leo that:

"On Thursday 24th May 2012 at Summer Place, Brand Finance in partnership with Brand South Africa and Brand Africa will host an event during which we will be releasing the inaugural BFSA Top 50, a league table of South Africa's 50 most valuable brands. This is the first time that such a league table will be published in South Africa focusing specifically on the value and strength of South African brands.

The morning event will include an opening address by Miller Motola, CEO - Brand South Africa, as well as David Haigh, CEO & Founder of Brand Finance, who is joining us from London. Following the opening address we have speakers joining us from MTN, Standard Bank and Adams & Adams. All speakers will provide their views and experiences on the theme "Building Global South African Brands". We will then announce the results of the Top 50 most valuable brands in South Africa, followed by a roundtable discussion facilitated by Thebe Ikalafeng, CEO of Brand Africa. For further information, please see the attached agenda."

Afro Leo understands that there are still a few spaces available so if you are interested in attending, please email Oliver here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hey man, why the long face?

A horse walks into a bar and the barman asks him: "hey man why the long face?"

Funny…maybe.

Well, the same question may be asked when an IP attorney returns after even a few hours in a typical due diligence room; those soulless rooms containing the innards of corporate value and identity.

Bars are generally wary of horses, and the question and answer is so ludicrous and obvious at the same time that it is funny, except if you are a thirsty horse. Still searching for the link?

Almost all companies own a bundle of very valuable IP that they, their corporate advisors, the banks and employees very often do not know exists, or fail to appreciate or understand if they do. Due diligence rooms are therefore usually so devoid in their recordal of IP that an IP attorney is very prone to displaying, well, horse like tendencies after a visit.

It is refreshing then to come across this link to a company involved in the mining sector that very clearly values and understands its own IP:

Alexander has made steady progress in advancing its plan to commercialise its proprietary breakthrough AmmLeach® mineral processing technology [in the Chairman’s opening sentence!].


In South Africa [relevant] - AmmLeach® [trade mark awareness, nice] copper/cobalt demonstration pilot plan established in collaboration [licensing, good] with MC Process Pty Ltd [local company, tech transfer].


In DRC [relevant] - Patent [yes, protection exists] for a Method of Ammoniacal Leaching granted.


Because of confidentiality agreements [wow], disclosure has been restricted to those opportunities where we are able to put the news into the public domain… which has enabled us to create an invaluable database of know-how and intellectual property [the Holy Grail]….we have already agreed the principle of granting a licence in exchange for a gross sales royalty [$value, no way] and to provide any necessary technical assistance with the project development.

For many readers this post may seem ridiculous. Nay! it is a fact that corporate IP awareness remains very low, especially in Africa, and that is a significant challenge to the understanding how IP is valuable to both the private and public sectors. It is also one of the reasons why the mere mention of IP can create strong division in Africa.

So shout it LOUD, even if you go horse!

Monday, 14 May 2012

INTA reports

Just back from a typically busy INTA schedule, Afro Leo now issues his annual report on three gatherings for this blog:

First is the African regional update which was back on the agenda in 2012 after a surprising omission the previous year and a call to action from this blog. The panel consisting of Gift Sibanda, Mike Sevant and the animated Prof Ephraim Ngwafor was chaired by Marco Van Der Merwe in front of audience of around 65 in hall 147 AB of the Convention Centre in Washington. Afro Leo went into tweet mode to cover the speed dating session with over 50 African countries, and the flow can be located at @afroip or by this search ''#INTADC #Africa'' in the twittersphere. For previous Africa Regional Updates covered by this blog in 2008, 2009 and 2010 click herehere and here.


Mark Mordi's disquiet over the Forum

The second gathering was one called by Prof Bankole Sodipo in a room in the Embassy Suites to discuss the future of the now cancelled African IP Summit/Forum. The turnout was impressive not by the amount of people (roughly 60 odd) but because almost all of them were from Africa. The initial discussion was dominated by outrage at the lack of communication and transparency between the 2011 meeting (see here) and notification of Forum late last year by the CLDP which took most of those present, including Afro Leo, by complete surprise. The meeting settled after the CLDP's Nnamdi Ezera offered up explanations. Bankole then outlined the following suggested mode of action:
  • Communication of further attempts to arrange the Forum would be communicated via email to those who presented business cards and via "captains" for each country (selected from those present)
  • The three gentlemen (Sibande, Sodipo and Mallowah) who addressed the meeting would form a secretariat
  • Stephen Mallowah would take the lead in disseminating information
  • a meeting planned for September in Tanzania would be a further step toward developing an agenda by Africans for the event
Nnamdi explained that if CDP's efforts to plan the ill fated 2011 Summit/Forum could form the basis of a future event, he would be happy and gets credit for sponsoring the room to host the meeting.


Spot the Leos (pic TTAB blog)
The third gathering of note was the 8th "Meet the Bloggers" event which took place last Monday night from 8-10 pm at Hill Country Barbeque Market. Marty Schwimmer (http://www.trademarkblog.com/), Ron Coleman (www.likelihoodofconfusion.com), Erik Pelton (http://www.erikpelton.com/), and John Welch (www.TTABlog.com) of hosted the event which attracted over 200 registered attendees. Afro-IP received a public mention from Marty which made this Leo purr loudly and Jeremy jump up and down. Thanks for the beer gents!

Finally, just a note from @_INTA ''President Mazzorro: INTA will be increasing its focus in Africa''. Life is good.



Sunday, 13 May 2012

A to Z of African official IP websites no.48: Swaziland

The 48th stop on Kingsley Egbuonu's trek around Africa's official intellectual property websites takes him to Swaziland. Although that country has a bright and colourful flag, its internet presence is sadly a good deal less bright.  This is what Kingsley has to report:
Overview

Swaziland is a Contracting Party to a number of treaties on intellectual property including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Swaziland is also a Member State of ARIPO.

Copyright Office

• The Intellectual Property Office (Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade) is the competent office responsible for copyright and related rights in Swaziland. 
• This office currently has no website of its own, but some information can be found on the Ministry’s own website here.

Industrial Property Office

• Currently same as above.

Social Media Presence

None found.

Intellectual Property update in Swaziland

Afro-IP has reported on various developments of practical significance in recent times including posts here, here and here.

Conclusion

Afro-IP is usually unsurprised to see a member state of OAPI or ARIPO without a website for its IP office. For example, we have seen Lesotho, Liberia, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, to name but a few, all currently have no web presence for their respective IP offices.

On other things interesting, Swaziland is yet another African country to which UK IP right owners can extend their existing protection and although facing extremely difficult times, it is currently undergoing a nation branding exercise with a view to attract foreign investors.

We wish Swaziland well but hope that it can at least see how its nation branding project – which engaged a group of individuals from various local marketing and brand consultancy companies -- revolves around IP.
Kingsley tweets as @IPinAfrica

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

2012 Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest

The 2012 Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest may be taking place across the ocean in Brazil, but there is still lots of IP goodness for Africa in the conference’s filling.

This year’s theme is Setting the Positive Agenda in Motion.  Catchy. The positive agenda mentioned here is the action agenda developed at the first Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, which was held last year.  Sessions and discussions will focus on how to us IP as a tool for development and include workshops as well as presentations.

Set sessions include:

  • Regulating Intellectual Property
  • Valuing Openness and the Public Domain
  • Strengthening Limitations and Exceptions as Enabling Tools for Innovation and Expression
  • Setting Public Interest Priorities for Patent and Research and Development Reform
  • Supporting Cultural Creativity
  • Checking Enforcement Excesses
  • Implementing Development Agendas
  • Targeted Research

Presentation slots are still open, and there’s even a set of topics on which presenters are being sought.  Afro-Leo knows a number of great IP attorneys on the continent who could present on “the ecology of access to education materials.”

More information on the conference can be found here.  The conference is from 15 – 17 December.  Registration is currently open with a deadline of 1 August for presenters and those requesting travel or funding assistance.

If any of Afro-Leo’s readers are able to attend, we would love to have a report back to share!

Hat tip to Primah Kwagala for bringing the 2012 Global Congress to Afro-Leo’s attention.

Photo credit:  This photo of a Brazil’s forests through a cave opening in Poço Azul that happens to be shaped a lot like Africa is called “Brazil” by Denise Mayumi licensed under CC-BY, available on Flickr.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A to Z of African official IP websites no.47: Sudan

It's now week 47 and Kingsley Egbuonu's marathon trek round Africa's many and varied nations, in search of official intellectual property websites, has now taken him across the border from South Sudan to the nation which formerly governed that territory, Sudan itself. Kingsley reports thus:
Overview

Sudan is a Contracting Party to a number of treaties on intellectual property including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Sudan is also an ARIPO Member State.
Copyright Office

• The Federal Council for Literary and Artistic Works (Ministry of Culture and Youth and Sports) is the competent office responsible for copyright and related rights in Sudan. 
• This office currently has no website.

Industrial Property Office

• The Office of the Registrar General of Sudan (Ministry of Justice) is the competent office responsible for the administration of intellectual property rights in Sudan. 
• The website for this office is www.ipsudan.gov.sd and it is in Arabic.

Social Media Presence

None found.

Intellectual Property update in Sudan

Afro-IP has reported on various developments of practical significance in recent times: see here, here, here and here
Conclusion

Similarly to South Sudan, Sudan has its own problems -- but there is a website for its intellectual property office. Albeit not up-to-date, the website has a lot of relevant information worthy of praise; they include: legislations, forms, fees and even a few case laws.

Afro-IP also got to learn of the excellent work done by the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) the www.arcsudan.sd towards ensuring that the future and sustainability of the agricultural sector in Sudan – which employs a significant number of its population despite its oil revenues.

By creating and encouraging a favourable environment for intellectual property rights, through its IP office, the Sudanese government will also be assisting with the work of the ARC.
Kingsley tweets as @IPinAfrica

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Gambia focuses on IP

Home to 1.7 million people (wikipedia)
It might be Africa's smallest country but The Gambia is busy setting itself up as an IP hub. A recent two day event organised by WIPO and ARIPO in conjunction with The Gambia government was tasked with formulating a National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy document.

According to an AllAfrica report (Amie Sanneh) Attorney General and Minister of Justice Lamin Jobarteh expressed that:

"Instead the development of societies and states are increasingly driven by the knowledge and skills of its people and the ability to harness and exploit its knowledge and resources"

The article states that "The Justice Minister explained that in the past two years, his department embarked on an intensive effort to clear the heavy backlog of intellectual property publications in the national gazette. He said it has now started printing the intellectual property certificates to its rightful holders. In January 2011, said Minister Jobarteh, the industry property regulations came into force which simplifies the gazetting and registration procedures for registration of industrial property. He stated further that the Copyright Office also formulated the first set of draft copyright regulations on registration of works which were adopted. Registration of works made in the Gambia began in the second quarter of 2011, he said."

Also speaking at the opening was Francoise Wege, Deputy Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, WIPO who spoke on behalf of the Director General of WIPO.