|It was with considerable pride and excitement that co-chairs Brenda Kahari (B.W. Kahari, Zimbabwe) and Barry Gerber (Philip Morris International Management SA, Switzerland) welcomed close to 200 attendees from 36 countries to the first INTA conference in Africa. Titled Building Africa with Brands, the event was held in South Africa’s picturesque mother city, Cape Town, on September 1–2, 2016, and was attended by legal, business and marketing experts, government officials, academics, entrepreneurs, and the 2016 INTA President Ronald van Tuijl.
The decision to host an international IP conference in Africa was inspired and well timed. Africa is experiencing significant economic growth and has become a region of considerable interest for investors with the resultant need to acknowledge the role and importance of IP on the continent, which has been home to the launch of several brands in recent years. In South Africa, for example, the following international brands have recently entered the market: HAMLEY’S, KRISPY KREME, STARBUCKS, and H&M, to name but a few.
A common thread throughout the conference was a recognition of the characteristics of the world’s second largest continent and what those mean for doing business there. Business in Africa is not conducted as it is in Western or first world countries; Africa marches to its own drum, which brings with it exciting and unique opportunities.
Africa is both a unique and diverse market, and one size doesn’t fit all. The continent is linguistically varied and is home to an estimated 1,500–2,000 African languages, several religions and belief systems, varied customs and practices, and several different legislative and judicial systems. For these reasons, advice from local experts on the ground is essential, local relationships and know-how are important, doing business on the continent requires patience and persistence, and investors should have realistic (but great) expectations. One of the conference speakers, Ian Isdale, consultant to Tiger Brands Ltd., one of Southern Africa’s largest fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, stressed the importance of gaining an understanding of the particular African market of interest and listening to the needs of the consumer in each market when considering IP issues in Africa.
Africa is exciting, and offers exciting opportunities. Who better to bring this notion to life than Robbie Brozin (pictured left), co-founder of Nando’s, a proudly South African, home-grown brand of restaurant and fast food outlets which, in just under 30 years, has expanded to comprise about 1,000 outlets in over 30 countries. In delivering his presentation on this South African brand’s success story, Mr. Brozen spoke of his brand’s aspiration: “Changing the way the world thinks of Africa.”
With the urban boom in several countries, consumer spending and product sales are on the rise, with the result that IP is set to become more important than ever. With this trend will hopefully come the recognition by governments of the role and importance of IP in Africa, which will bring about progress such as the digitization of IP registries and speeding up registration and enforcement processes. There is considerable pressure on African countries to offer first world recognition of IP rights.
Rory Voller, panelist speaker and Acting Commissioner of South Africa Companies and IP Commission (CIPC), spoke of the progress and changes afoot at the South African IP registries, perhaps in recognition of South Africa’s role as the gateway for IP into Africa. By way of example, the CIPC hopes to introduce the Madrid trademark filing system to South Africa in 2018 and has been working closely with WIPO in order to achieve this goal. Automation at the South African registry has been improved, additional examiners have been appointed and trained, and prosecution time periods have been reduced.
The enthusiasm for and interest in IP on the African continent, which was so evident at the Building Africa with Brands conference, will no doubt continue to grow and the IP legislative, regulatory, and professional environment in Africa will continue to progress as a result of the enormous growth being experienced across the continent.
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© 2016 International Trademark Association