By Wallace Mawire
HARARE-Zimbabwe successfully hosted a regional conference on geographical indications for the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) member states which was officially opened on 10 November,2021 by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Virginia Mabhiza who represented the Zimbabwe Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi.
The regional conference organized by ARIPO in collaboration with Africa Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project (AfrIPI), an European Union (EU) funded project implemented by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), was held from 10 to 12 November 2021.
The conference’s objective was to define a strategy amongst the ARIPO Member States with regards to setting up a Geographical Indication (GI) legal framework on a regional or national level.
“ARIPO is delighted to host this significant conference on GI’s that will help our member states have constructive discussions on how countries can protect their GIs. Protection of GIs will go a long way in the social-economic development of the Member States,” said ARIPO Director General, Mr. Bemanya Twebaze.
According to the AfrIPI project leader, Mr. Dennis Scheirs, “the AfrIPI project began operations in 2020 and will run until 2025. Among other activities, AfrIPI has already successfully supported an application to protect the Cameroonian GI ‘Penja Pepper’ at the EU level and the commercial launch of the ‘Cabrito de Tete’ GI in Mozambique.”
“The AfrIPI project is a major step in enhancing IP rights in Africa including patents, trademarks, and registered designs, but also other intellectual property rights such as geographical indications which have a huge potential in Africa. Thanks to this initiative, businesses, producers and citizens will benefit from stronger protection leading to increased income economic growth and a safer investment landscape in Africa. We are working hand in hand with the African intellectual property organisations ARIPO and African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI), the African Union and national administrations to improve the legal framework and enforcement systems,” added Mr. Scheirs.
The conference demonstrated the importance of GIs for the national and regional markets. It also served as a platform to discuss assets of a common system of protection, looking at the EU and OAPI regional system of registration. The workshop also discussed the best practices with national laws on GIs, challenges with the adoption of a regional framework on GIs for ARIPO countries, and the assessment of needs regarding GIs in the ARIPO region.
The ARIPO Member States are Botswana, The Kingdom of Eswatini, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, The Kingdom of Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Geographical indications” (“GIs”) are defined in Article 22(1) of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1995 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.”
As most ARIPO Countries are members of the TRIPS Agreement, they were expected to transpose the minimum standards to protect GIs contained in articles 22 to 24 of TRIPS.
There are essentially two approaches to the protection of geographical names,a “public law approach”: where public authorities enact legislation dedicated to the specific protection of GIs, so-called sui generis law and a “private law approach”: using laws against unfair competition, passing off, or trademark law (collective or certification trademark).
It is reported that at this point, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe have adopted sui generis legislations to protect GIs at the national level.
It is also added that for other ARIPO Member States, it is work in progress.
Botswana, the Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, the United Republic of Tanzania (except for Zanzibar), Zambia and Malawi. Meanwhile, the private approach applies to register and protect GIs in this country.
The remaining countries Lesotho, Somalia, Sudan and the Kingdom of Eswatini do not have a registration system yet.
Of all ARIPO Member States, 12 are members of the communal agreement dedicated to the regional protection of geographical trademarks – the so-called “Banjul Protocol on Marks”, (last amended on 20th November 2019): Botswana, Eswatini, The Gambia, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sào Tomé and Príncipe, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
It is also added that unfortunately, to this date, no registration has been attempted at the regional level. A recent study showed that over 400,000 jobs are directly linked to the development of GIs in the European Union (EU), contributing to over €20Billion to the region’s GDP1. Annually, over €74.7Billion worth of GI products are sold in the region, and 20% are exported. By inference, the protection and registration of GIs offer avenues for producers to enhance the positioning of their products on the market. Price premiums are consistently attainable when a GI strategy is implemented, bringing additional benefits from a social and environmental perspective.
With the aim to support the African Union in the process of creating, protecting, utilising, administering and enforcing Intellectual property rights (IPR) across Africa, in line with international and European best practice and in support of the AfCFTA and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the AfrIPI project is committed to assist in this important roadmap.
The rationale of the ARIPO-AfrIPI GI conference is to set the scene for a constructive debate on GIs in ARIPO Member States.
ARIPO is Africa’s leading Intellectual Property hub that fosters creativity and innovation for economic growth and development in Africa. ARIPO’s mandate is on Copyright and Related Rights, Patents & Utility Models, Industrial Designs, Trademarks, Traditional Knowledge & Expressions of Folklore, Access and Benefit Sharing, Geographical Indications, and Plant Variety Protection. ARIPO has 21 Member States. The ARIPO Secretariat is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
AfrIPI is an international cooperation project funded and directed by the European Union, co-funded and implemented by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). It has an initial duration of five years, starting from February 2020.