Monday, 24 March 2014

The African IP session at the 2014 International Patent Forum (IPF)

Afro-IP is proud to have supported this year's IPF which was successfully held on 18th and 19th March at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel, London. Representing the blog was this open-minded Leo - who is grateful to the organisers for the invitation.

Having gulped down two cups of coffee, during the break, this Leo quickly made his way into the auditorium to join international delegates for the African session. (Afro Leo does not like events with breakout rooms for various sessions as such format pretty much isolates people in sparsely populated rooms) So what did this Leo learn?

The session began with a panel introduction from Russell Bagnall (Adams & Adams), who also said that his U.S and UK clients are now increasingly seeking advice on IP protection and enforcement across target African markets. 

First Speaker
First on the podium was Nicky Weimar (Nedbank) who delivered a powerful presentation consisting of various verifiable data on the economic trends of many African countries. From her slides, and indeed based on her views, one could see which countries present investors with higher/lower risks for higher/lower returns.The pertinent lesson this Leo took away was: investors are now looking at Africa's potential rather than the negatives. "Long live the positive interests", says Afro Leo.

Second Speaker
Next was Nicky Garnett (Adams & Adams) for the gist of the event. Using the map of the continent, we were told that the top 5 African markets for IP protection and enforcement are: South Africa, ARIPO, OAPI, Nigeria and Angola. We also learned that U.S companies (mostly pharmaceuticals) prefer ARIPO - whose filing numbers currently surpass that of OAPI.  However, Ms. Garnett cautioned that both systems, obviously, have their pros and cons: for example, uneven domestication of legal instruments and length of time for grant under the ARIPO regime. 

We then looked at the patent filing numbers within key markets. South Africa still leads (its strong IP fraternity and training mentioned as a factor) and companies from Germany, Ireland, U.S and the UK are increasingly obtaining them. This Leo also noted that patent filing is also slightly on the rise in Nigeria. During her presentation, Ms. Garnett shared two photographs, among others, depicting the manual nature of the IP register of two African countries. This Leo was actually embarrassed to see that one of them is a weary-looking book where IP rights are recorded; the other was palatable in the form of what looks like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of IP records on a PC.  

The lesson from Ms. Garnett's presentation was that a handful of countries (at least, this one) are much more equipped - in many ways, albeit existing bottlenecks - to attract foreign IP owners to protect and enforce their rights across target markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Well, this Leo cannot currently argue otherwise.

Third Speaker
Following Ms. Garnett, for the gist, was Mr. Bagnall. First, he cautioned that the data relied upon by Ms.Garnett and himself, on patent protection and enforcement activity, were mainly based on those pertaining to other IP rights such as trade marks. Using a scoreboard, we learned that while Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania are showing signs of IP activity, Ghana is currently disappointing. Again, we are told that South Africa leads. Mr Bagnall buttressed the similarity in legal systems between some African countries and the UK and that South African lawyers can litigate in Namibia due to their historical legal connections. 

The lesson from Mr. Bagnall's presentation was that operating in ARIPO countries is easier in comparison to OAPI (Afro Leo assumes: from a South African IP lawyer's perspective) and that South Africa is the preferred hub for IP services. Lastly, the lack of, or inadequate, specialist expertise and essential infrastructure for IP (e.g. critically under-resourced IP office) were cited as significant challenges in most African countries. "South Africa is not totally immune to the latter", shouts Afro Leo.

Fourth Speaker
By the time the last speaker, Christopher Kiige (ARIPO), stepped up to the podium, the allotted time was almost up. Mr. Kiige had to skim through his slides - focusing on ARIPO's legal tenets, achievements and future plans. He told us that his organisation is working hard to help Member States domesticate its operating legal instruments, train IP lawyers and reduce the length of time for grant of IP rights. According to Mr Kiige, Nigeria, Angola and Ethiopia are planning to join the organisation.

Lastly and most importantly, Mr Kiige told us about ARIPO's long term plans. First is to further improve the working relationship with its counterpart, OAPI. Secondly, both entities may merge as one organisation in the near future. No, he said that this vision has nothing to do with the controversial PAIPO. There you have it from the horse's mouth!

This Leo must first say that he also learned other things outside of the African continent: one example is biosimilar. Considering that a quarter of doctors in Europe have no idea of what biosimilar is, he is glad to roughly be in the know.

He enjoyed the Africa session (as well as the subsequent sessions); it was appropriately structured to present economic growth trends before any talk of commercial law such as IP. He was pleased to hear questions from an engaged audience and took the opportunity to ask one about potential interest in Africa's legal services industry. The answer to his question came from Mr. Bagnall who said that there is not yet the impetus for foreign legal practices to look at IP legal services on the continent. Well, this Leo can understand why: for a start, there seems not to be enough IP work; and moreover, there are reputable African law practices well able to operate within and beyond their own territories on the continent.

South Africa is currently flying the IP flag and is generally seen as the hub for Africa's legal services industry, but Kenya seems to be gaining momentum on the IP front. Indeed, a united IP fratenity would have the capability and credibility to lobby their respective Governments on various matters and attract investors (whoever this may be) for its community to thrive. 

If the format permits, this Leo hopes to see more than one IP law firm (representing the key African markets) in the 2015 International Patent Forum.  

If the organisers or presenters do decide to release the slides to him, this Leo will share it.

1 comment:

Caroline Ncube said...

Very interesting update, Kingsley. The possible merger of OAPI and ARIPO is a big deal. Please update us if you learn anything further about it.