IP Leadership in Africa: An Interview with ARIPO Director General Bemanya Twebaze
Published: July 21, 2021
The intergovernmental African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), headquartered in Harare, Zimbabwe, grants and administers intellectual property (IP) titles on behalf of its member states and provides services, publications, and awareness creation. To date, 20 African countries are members of ARIPO.
Director General Bemanya Twebaze of Uganda took office for a four-year term on January 1, 2021. Prior to his appointment, he served as registrar general of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, which is responsible for IP rights registration in Uganda. Mr. Twebaze previously served as chair of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Advisory Committee on Enforcement, chair of the ARIPO Administrative Council, and in the presidency of the Paris Union Assembly. He was also a member of the 2020 IP Office of the Future Think Tank, facilitated by INTA.
In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, Mr. Twebaze discusses ARIPO’s numerous initiatives and priorities for his term, including a growth strategy, awareness-raising, capacity building and training, financial stability, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to increase protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.
What are your priorities for ARIPO during your term?
My top priority is to ensure that we create and co-create value. I will build on past achievements and endeavor to deliver a regional IP office that balances the needs of all its stakeholders, both in the current IP landscape and a foreseeable, changed IP environment of the future. This will be done through a series of approaches, which I’ll describe.
Importantly, we will strengthen the ARIPO Legal Framework. We have a number of Protocols which I believe are not performing as expected, such as the Swakopmund Protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expression of Folklore, which came into force on May 11, 2015. I strongly believe that an efficient, effective, and attractive IP legal regime is pivotal in promoting socio-economic development in the region. Under my leadership, the performance of the Protocols will be critically evaluated, and measures put in place to promote their uptake.
We will grow our membership through a strategy that promotes and demonstrates the value of the organization to potential new member states and users of the ARIPO System. Also, understanding that the value of the organization lies in harnessing the potential of its common services, a single filing system complementing integration initiatives.
We will promote IP through awareness campaigns, enhancement of technical and financial support, strengthening partnerships, and the establishment of a digital transformation strategy. My objective is to continue positioning ARIPO as a driver of creativity and innovation that fosters economic growth and development in Africa, for the present and the future.
As [the 4th Industrial Revolution] develops and evolves, ARIPO should be at the forefront of developing a shared approach to these issues regionally and globally.
To ensure ARIPO’s financial growth and sustainability, we will grow the organization’s revenue through the creation of value for users and cost reduction measures, and by harnessing existing partnerships and attracting new ones to support some of the resources in intensive activities at the Secretariat and within the member states.
To further deliver value, we will invest in human capital development. Ensuring adequate human resources with appropriate skills will be key in positioning ARIPO as a relevant contributor to IP development in Africa and globally.
We also need to position ARIPO for the 4th Industrial Revolution [4IR]. To be a premier hub of IP in Africa, ARIPO must prepare and shape a future that in some ways is already with us. The future is characterized by a high youth population, the convergence of IP norms, and opportunities and challenges posed by 4IR technologies. These technologies—Big Data, blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented reality, cloud computing, and autonomous robots—will reshape norms, rules, and standards, particularly at the interface of IP and industry. As 4IR develops and evolves, ARIPO should be at the forefront of developing a shared approach to these issues regionally and globally.
Finally, we must embrace COVID-19-induced opportunities for post-pandemic success. We are focusing on regulatory flexibility, staff adaptability, and investment in the deployment of the latest technologies, not just as a function of an innovative office, but as a basic tool of office administration.
In your view, how is the ARIPO trademark system performing under the current Banjul Protocol and how would you like to improve its performance?
The ARIPO trademark system under the Banjul Protocol has made some progress since its inception. There is, however, great potential that is yet to be harnessed that will ratchet up its performance. We need to conduct membership drives to increase its use and encourage all member states to domesticate the Protocol. This will help to remove the element of uncertainty in enforcement of rights registered through the Protocol.
In addition, we need to carry out needs assessments with a view to identify the specific needs of each member state. These needs will be addressed through targeted awareness campaigns, as well as workshops and seminars for targeted groups such as SMEs and chambers of commerce.
Furthermore, ARIPO should continue engaging users of the system through the annual Working Group Sessions on the Improvement of the Industrial Property Protocols. In these sessions, stakeholders are invited to submit recommendations for the improvement of the Protocols. This ensures a user-friendly system that leads to increased performance. We need to be intentional in demonstrating the value of the Protocols and showcasing tangible results. Ultimately, it is results that matter most.
Lastly, ARIPO will continue to enhance its visibility through activities that allow the organization to showcase its role of shaping the IP landscape in Africa with the aim of increasing uptake of the system.
What plans are there to increase the number of member states of the Banjul Protocol (currently 12 states), and ensure the integration of the Protocol into the national trademark laws of states that are subscribed to it?
Growing the number of member states adhering to ARIPO and to its Protocols is an important aspect of my vision for the organization. Recently, we have seen increased interest among member states in joining the Banjul Protocol. The Gambia joined most recently [on May 3] as the 12th Contracting State. We plan to raise awareness through workshops with the support of our partners, including EUIPO [the European Union IP Office]. The other important activity is the regular holistic review of our Protocols through the Working Group, which I plan to reinforce and encourage.
Domestication of the Banjul Protocol is also of utmost importance, as it assures rights holders of the enforceability of their rights. I plan to ensure this is achieved mostly through engagement with individual member states. It is also important to note that member states that are adopting new IP laws are also taking into account the domestication aspect. Malawi, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe, for example, have taken this approach.
Growing the number of member states adhering to ARIPO and to its Protocols is an important aspect of my vision for the organization.
What are your thoughts on the role of ARIPO in actualizing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) IP Protocol?
As ARIPO, we have always indicated that we are here to serve all our member states as well as potential member states. Having an effective IP Protocol under the AfCFTA is our dearest wish! We are aware of the role IP has in AfCFTA’s success. As such, ARIPO has a consultative role in view of its expertise and experience in IP.
For most African countries now transitioning to knowledge-based economies, the role of IP is growing exponentially and ARIPO has a unique opportunity to harvest the ingenuity and creativity of Africa’s young population. The AfCFTA and the various regional economic blocs are easing the movement of labor, goods, and services, requiring even more effective protection mechanisms across borders. ARIPO is ready to offer its expertise and experience in IP for the successful negotiation of the AfCFTA IP Protocol. Intra-African trade will definitely necessitate the effective administration of IP.
What are the challenges to IP protection and enforcement in Africa and among ARIPO members in particular?
IP protection and enforcement is critical to the growth of IP. It is apparent that its protection and enforcement is also essential to the promotion of innovation and creativity. As in other aspects of IP, the balance of enforcement of IP with members’ development priorities is critical.
Challenges for IP protection include the absence of consistent and coherent national IP policies in most countries as well as appropriate laws and enforcement mechanisms. Further, most countries do not address IP issues in their national development plans.
A lack of awareness of IP rights in general, processes for acquisition, and the inability to afford registration fees, pose further challenges. In addition, there is a lack of technical capacity and infrastructure at IP offices; lack of public awareness of the dangers of counterfeiting and piracy; and a lack of sufficient and credible data on the prevalence of counterfeiting and piracy, which might limit policy interventions.
We also face a number of enforcement-related challenges. These include:
- Not all states in the region have specialized IP courts;
- Not all member states are on the same level of technological advancement;
- Some rights holders are reluctant to seek court remedies—a formal complaint is an essential requirement for the start of criminal procedures;
- With the advent of Internet, the violation of IP rights has become much more complex as the Internet is a borderless jurisdiction;
- The lack of synergy between institutions such as universities, research and development, employers’ associations, industries, and consumers. There is inadequacy about institutional coordination arrangements. A failure to effectively coordinate among institutions creates enforcement gaps that are easily exploited by counterfeiters and those who deal in pirated works;
- Inadequacy of financial and material resources available for IP institutions;
- Most countries face budgetary challenges—anti-piracy and anticounterfeiting raids require sufficient funding;
- Building collaborative, capacity-building programs to create more awareness among enforcement agencies and the public; and
- Assistance is needed to develop homegrown consumer awareness campaigns to curb counterfeits and piracy through the use of national broadcasting organizations.
How is ARIPO working with stakeholders to raise awareness and address IP protection and enforcement challenges?
ARIPO has taken steps to raise awareness, and build respect, compliance, and appreciation of IP through various initiatives either on its own or in partnerships within and beyond Africa. It is through such partnerships that ARIPO member states, and Africa generally, benefit from and expand their knowledge of IP rights and build respect for IP. This contributes to the socioeconomic development of Africa.
Since July 2014, ARIPO has undertaken many initiatives to support and raise awareness on building respect for IP and compliance. Among these initiatives are national and regional workshops; training of trainers of police academies, judges, and judicial instructors; and developing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)-ARIPO manual entitled “Investigating and Prosecuting IP Crime: Training Materials for Law Enforcement Authorities and Prosecutors.”
Domestication of the Banjul Protocol is also of utmost importance, as it assures rights holders of the enforceability of their rights.
Despite these efforts and the progress made over the years, we still need to strengthen synergies; improve legal and institutional frameworks to match current trends; increase capacity-building and awareness creation on IP matters across Africa; promote respect for IP among all stakeholders in the value chain; conduct consumer awareness campaigns on the evils of IP infringement; have IP rights holders play an important role in the enforcement of their rights; harmonize law; strengthen cooperation among stakeholders; and invest in capacity building at all levels.
In connection with your participation in the IPO of the Future Think Tank, what are your main takeaways?
First of all, let me say it was a great privilege and honor to be selected to participate in the “IPO of the Future” project by INTA, which was to act as a facilitator to “help nurture a proactive, thought provoking, and holistic reflection on what an IPO in the mid-term future (2030) might look like.”
Taking advice from The IPO of the Future Think Tank Report, ARIPO looks to: embrace the 4IR, which is disrupting industries worldwide; act global, but remain cognizant of local needs; build clear and consistent office practices and regulations that are understood by all stakeholders, in view of the globalized nature of IP; provide timely, high-quality, and affordable services; provide accurate and clean data in view of the growing importance attached to data; and build an agile Office.
What of the topics and/or recommendations would you use to set the office plan for the coming years?
ARIPO is keen on building an Office for the future that is agile and robust, offering an IP system of choice in Africa. We want to promote awareness and conduct IP education as well as bridge capacity gaps on IP in a bid to increase the filing of utility models and industrial designs that remain low from Africa. ARIPO is keen to fully harmonize or approximate IP laws among our member states. Communication will play a big role at ARIPO as we strive to demystify IP and ensure our stakeholders, including the public, know what we are doing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on registries worldwide. How has it impacted the ARIPO Secretariat in Harare and its interactions with the registries in member states?
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked untold suffering and loss on our societies. As we are still learning how to respond effectively, a couple of areas still need continuous evaluation.
ARIPO is keen on building an office for the future that is agile and robust, offering an IP system of choice in Africa.
The execution of ARIPO functions has not been immune to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, ARIPO operations and services offered by the Office to users have remained largely unaffected by the crisis. The Office has remained fully operational since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, owing to the already established 24-hour e-services, which include an online application filing platform. This platform proved very effective during the COVID-19–induced lockdowns, as it ensured business continuity. There was an increase in the uptake of the online services, with 84 percent of all new applications received in 2020 filed online. Individually, patent applications recorded the highest percentage with 98 percent of the applications filed online compared to 77 percent in 2019. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of uptake of the online services and cemented the idea that the future of ARIPO lies in the good use of information and communication technologies.
ARIPO shall emerge from this pandemic even more agile, stronger, and more prepared for the uncertain future!
ARIPO statistics show that most users of the system are not from the continent and are not micro or small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). What plans are in place for making the ARIPO trademark system more user friendly to African MSMEs?
ARIPO intends to conduct sensitization workshops in member states where MSMEs are identified and invited. The goal is to promote active and effective use of the IP system and, in particular, trademarks by the MSMES.
There are also planned activities under the framework of the Intellectual Property Rights & Innovation in Africa (AfrIPI) project to enhance awareness around IP among MSMEs in the member states.
ARIPO is mandated under the Swakopmund Protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expression of Folklore to protect traditional knowledge against infringement and protect expressions of folklore against misappropriation, misuse, and unlawful exploitation. What are your plans to (1) promote the protection of TK and TCEs and encourage more member states to accede to the Protocol; and to (2) educate communities on the benefits of registering TK with ARIPO?
The Swakopmund Protocol came into being in response to the member states’ desire to address the rampant incidents of misappropriation and biopiracy in the region. We intend to promote the Protocol among our member states and encourage them to ratify it through seminars and other engagements. Internally, we have already started to channel our efforts towards ensuring that member states accede to the Protocol, including working with WIPO to establish a register and database under provisions of the Protocol to document traditional knowledge. We also plan to work with regional economic communities and reach out to the African Union to ensure that Swakopmund Protocol serves the continent.
At a national level, there is no doubt that the services of the Protocol are in acute need, as meeting after meeting, stakeholders appreciate the instrument and are ready to work with us to overcome certain challenges that are inherent to dealing with knowledge of this nature. All these efforts should lead to some of our member states formulating policy, regulatory, and legal frameworks.
On a general note, we have also completed a feasibility study to help us understand the opportunities and costs, among other things, of the Swakopmund Protocol. It will be instrumental to our progress.
Any final thoughts to share?
As I conclude this interview, I wish to emphasize that my objective is to continue positioning ARIPO to foster creativity and innovation for economic growth and development in Africa for the present and the future. ARIPO was set up to support member states and I will be focusing on realizing that purpose; and establishing a digital transformation strategy in order to fundamentally change the way ARIPO operates and delivers services to users and member states.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
© 2021 International Trademark Association
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