Sunday, November 11, 2012

Out of Africa

Congo RiverNext week there is a meeting of science and technology ministers of the African Union. One of the items on the table in Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo is a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organization (PAIPO).

Existing systems

There are already two regional intellectual property offices in Africa. These are the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI).

Many of us downunder don't have a lot of professional dealings with either of these organisations. We tend to learn about them for our patent attorney qualification exams. Then we quietly forget about ARIPO and OAPI until it is our turn to tutor exam candidates.

Last year I did actually have some business dealings with Kenya which is a member state of ARIPO. Mrs PatentBuff was detained at one of the Kenyan regional airports as a suspected drug mule. I guess it is not really an IP matter. But it is definitely a good story.

The case for PAIPO

The draft text for PAIPO is available here. In 2007 the heads of state gave the African Union Scientific, Technical and Research Commission the task of coming up with a draft legal instrument. The Commission apparently consulted with African Union member states, existing regional IP offices and collective management organisations.

I say 'apparently' because on the other hand there is criticism in some quarters of a lack of consultation and transparency in the process leading up to the production of the Draft Statute.

The stated objectives of PAIPO are set out in Article 5 as follows:

  • promotion of harmonisation of intellectual property laws of its [African Union] member states;
  • common administration and management services of intellectual property; and
  • vehicle for addressing political issues and developing African common positions relating to intellectual property matters.

The case against PAIPO

Every new proposal has its critics. Public interest observers are concerned that the PAIPO initiative seeks to adopt "first-world" standards of protection. It appears to pander to the demands of foreign intellectual property rights holders. It fails to appreciate or address the needs of the least-developed countries in Africa.

There is a petition circulating that urges the delay of the PAIPO proposal. It seeks a more open discussion and wants to see the proposal, if it goes ahead at all, to be more tailored to local African needs. At the time of writing this blog there are less than 400 signatures. This doesn't sound like a lot of signatures to me. The petition does not even appear to originate from within Africa.

The main question is whether or not this system is needed at all. It will require a lot of resources to set up an African centralized registration system. Wouldn't those resources be better spent on improving the existing systems of ARIPO and OAPI? Or assisting individual member states with accession to the PCT treaty?

Watch this space

I really don't have a strong view on PAIPO. There doesn't seem to be a lot of support for the establishment of the new system. There also doesn't seem to be a lot of local opposition to it either. It should be an interesting meeting.

Photo courtesy of author CIFOR under Creative Commons licence.

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