Although the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) last week met in Gaborone, Botswana, to discuss issues relating to the protection of traditional knowledge and expressions of folklore, on the basis of which a protocol has been developed both with regulations to guide its proper implementation, there is concern that without taking on board populous nations such as South Africa and Nigeria, the journey may well be delayed by miles and ages.
Sentsuoe Mohau, outgoing Chairperson of ARIPO, and also Registrar General of Lesotho, said in an interview with the Sunday Standard that it was decided that even though ARIPO continues to register major strides in developing legal and institutional capacity, there is need to intensify the campaign for recruitment or ultimate joining of the organisation by South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria as well as Angola and Liberia.
“This is because the broader our membership base gets, the more the chances of reputable international investors developing the desired business confidence in the African markets would be increased to the ultimate benefit of member states,” Mohau said.
She pointed out that it is important that when companies and investors from countries which are already advanced in intellectual property matters consider selling their products in any African country, they should not be afraid that that there may be a risk for their products being pirated.
“But how do you effectively ensure that, in a scenario where one set of countries are bound by existing intellectual property instruments under the auspices of ARIPO or African Intellectual Property Organization(OAPI), when others would be immune from any form of accountability despite the intertwined trading system that brings all of them together?” posited Mohau with a quip.
One example that comes to mind is an incident in which a song, by a local cultural music group known as Culture Spears, has reportedly been pirated and disfigured by a South African Group, but it has been believed that efforts to pursue the matter might amount to chasing after a wild goose given the absence of any clear linkage between the involved countries in terms of binding statutory provisions.
In recognition of this fact, “letters have been dispatched to the relevant authorities in the affected countries inviting them to join ARIPO, and positive responses are expected any time soon,” said Gift Sibanda, Director General of ARIPO.
To highlight the importance of a global approach in governing the knowledge society Sibanda showed how ARIPO continues to maintain its relationship with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations and custodian of many intellectual property Treaties.
Attendance of cooperating partners like Korean Patent Office (KIPO) Deputy Director General Kangmin Lee and Deputy Director General of IMPI-Mexico, Dr Jorge Armigo as well as the President of International Trademark Association, was described as sure indicators of the relevance of a unified approach in dealing with matters of protecting traditional knowledge.
The outgoing Chairperson, Mohau, also told the Sunday Standard that efforts are at an advanced stage to establish a database containing “original knowledge” which would enable the relevant authorities to prevent those who apply for patenting of their products from using other people’s inventions falsely claiming ownership.
It was also stated that the UN intellectual property agency, in collaboration with affected stakeholders is currently working on plans for ultimate integration of the English speaking ARIPO and French OAPI, as part of the broader idea of achieving an easy to govern intellectual property community, which would further enhance investment opportunities for both sides.
OAPI is based in Yaonde, Cameron.
Currently many countries especially in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa continue to benefit from ARIPO’s expertise in conducting substantive examination on patent applications though a treaty called the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Harare Protocol.
In conclusion, Mohau expressed satisfaction in the fact that during her term of office she did everything in her means to take the organization to another level, so much that some of the constraints have almost been overcome.
In addition, she said the securing of an extra space next to her organization’s headquarters in Harare came at the right time as that will be used to accommodate the Intellectual Property Training Centre, where a Master Degree in Intellectual property which was introduced in 2006 would taught as a full fledged programme for enhancing capacity of member states.