Here is Marius Schneider's guest editorial for the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (JIPLP, here). Apart from being a founder-member of the JIPLP Editorial Board, Marius heads IPvocateAfrica, a Mauritius-based IP boutique firm catering for clients' needs for IP protection and enforcement in Africa.
Call for an African IP practitioners' association
It is impressive to see the list of associations to which some IP professionals belong. This is particularly the case in the EU. Europe is complex and diverse and so are the IP right-holders' associations. It is not unusual for EU colleagues to be members of national (eg GRUR, APRAM) and regional (eg ECTA and MARQUES) associations; for niche sectors there are niche organisations (eg the Pharmaceutical Trade Mark Group); for the ‘IP intellectuals’ there is AIPPI; and then there is the inevitable INTA. Even small IP boutique firms will often be members of several associations, while large law firms use a considerable proportion of their business cards and letterheads to list all associations to which they are affiliated. Sometimes I get the impression that some colleagues ‘only’ go to conferences and never deal with any files (but that is a topic for another editorial …).
African IP practitioners have less opportunity to be active in IP associations. There is no pan-African right-holders' association. However, some colleagues belong to local groups or attend INTA meetings. The latter is especially the case for colleagues from ‘competitive markets’ for IP services, such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. INTA provides a forum for meeting clients, foreign associates and forging new contacts. However Africa is not a top priority for INTA and its members: in the recent past the annual ‘INTA Africa Session’ has been dropped and the sessions remain sadly neglected, judging by the number of attendees (allthough there seems to be a tendency amongst some colleagues to attend INTA without attending any of the sessions - but this is again another editorial topic …).
Many African colleagues attending INTA face various challenges: both the event itself and annual membership are expensive, and so is travelling to the general meeting. The visa requirements are also burdensome and it is possible to spend more time lining up in embassies to obtain travel authorisations than at the actual conference. Nor is the annual general meeting the kind of place where one can spontaneously meet new business contacts: in order to be ‘efficient’ each meeting must be planned meticulously (although some have developed their specific strategy to meet ‘almost everyone’ – for example the JIPLP Editor in Chief, who stations himself at the booth of Oxford University Press – but INTA meeting strategies are yet another subject for those desirous of writing a JIPLP editorial).
With the help of modern technology (e-newsletters, collaborative websites, video-conferencing), volunteer work and a minimum of permanent staff, the association could be efficiently run and operate with a minimal membership fee. This would make the association attractive and accessible to many African and non-African practitioners and right-holders. Conferences could be held in major African cities easily accessible by plane. Enough destinations for the first few years immediately spring to mind. So what are we waiting for …?