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The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office is raising awareness of the importance of trademark rights, while also warning businesses about the risk of counterfeiting, as Director General Ermias Yemanebirhan tells Aaron McDonald.
With 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa, after Nigeria.
Such a large population creates a challenge for the developing country in raising awareness of the importance of IP protection.
“It is important to support and protect the trademark rights of Ethiopian inventors so that they know their rights and obligations in the use of their trademarks, and other trademarks too,” says Ermias Yemanebirhan, Director General at the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO).
To this end, the office has a number of initiatives in place. These include organizing educational events through television and radio programs regarding registered trademarks and brand protection.
Other initiatives that the EIPO has in the pipeline include embracing the Technology and Innovation Support Center (TISC) program at universities and other research institutes.
The TISC program is a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) project that provides innovators in developing countries access to technology information and related services. This provides them with a platform to help them reach their potential and manage their IP rights.
The program’s services include providing participants with training in database searches and basic information on industrial property laws, management and strategy, and technology commercialization and marketing.
The Office is also undertaking automation of its internal trademark application and registration system, which is being done in collaboration with WIPO- Intellectual Property Automated System, an integrated IP administration system that can automate the processing of trademarks, patents, and industrial designs. The EIPO expects to have full online service soon.
Other initiatives include completion of a trademark examination manual in June of 2018; a new system for registering and licensing trademark agents; reestablishment of the IP tribunal court, which will have federal first instance jurisdiction over industrial property and copyrights; and transitioning IP appeal hearings to more formal proceedings that will be held in open court twice per week.
While the EIPO has strategies in place to encourage innovation, there are still some obstacles facing brand owners.
“The biggest threat to brand owners in Ethiopia is [[the unauthorized use of]] similar, identical, or confusingly similar marks to registered ones,” explains Mr. Yemanebirhan.
Another obstacle that brand owners face is the risk posed by counterfeiters. If a brand falls victim to counterfeiters, this could lead to a loss of market and of reputation, says Mr. Yemanebirhan.
"EIPO has provided training to legal bodies (such as law enforcement, customs, consumer and trade authorities, and judges), as well as business owners, judges, and government officials, in order to raise awareness."
To help overcome these challenges, the EIPO has provided training to legal bodies (such as law enforcement, customs, consumer and trade authorities, and judges), as well as business owners, judges, and government officials, in order to raise awareness.
The EIPO also uses its website to educate the public and to disseminate information in a more efficient manner. The Office also recently launched an online trademark publication and search database and has finalized a draft IP policy, which will pave the way for more coordination and protection of trademarks and other IP assets.
Training is also provided to trademark owners, the business community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, and regional towns, and other stakeholders. If a brand owner does fall victim to infringement, the EIPO is able to offer support by “providing the necessary information to legal bodies (police and courts) concerning the status of the registration of the victim’s marks while they are acting against the infringer,” Mr. Yemanebirhan explains.
“INTA collaborates with the EIPO through policy reviews, sharing of best practices, and regular dialogue,” he concludes.
INTA, INTA18, Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, Ermias Yemanebirhan, trademarks, counterfeiting