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The Africa Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project should be lauded for its success, particularly in the area of geographical indications, says Inês Monteiro Alves of Inventa.
The Africa Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project (AfrIPI) is an international cooperation project funded and directed by the European Union (EU), co-founded, and implemented by the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), that aims to facilitate intra-African trade and African and European investment.
Specifically, the project’s objectives are to create, protect, utilise, administer and enforce IP rights (IPRs) across Africa, in line with international and European best practices and in support of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the African Union´s Agenda 2063.
On August 26, 2021, the AfrIPI was officially launched during an Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) Diplomatic Conference, held in Kampala, Uganda.
AfrIPI is a five-year EU-funded international cooperation project of €17 million ($18.7 million) that involves the collaboration of African governments, regional IP organisations, academia, and the private sector, to create, promote and protect IP in Africa.
The pillars of AfrIPI can be summarised as the following:
- Promote international agreements in IPRs: reinforce EU and Africa cooperation to facilitate fact-based AfCFTA negotiations and implementation.
- Contribute to strengthening national and regional IP Institutions, networks, and tools, for more efficient and user-friendly IP protection and enforcement systems.
- Strengthen the awareness of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises/productive sector on the importance and value of IP.
- Support the implementation of priority actions identified by the work plan linked to the African Union (AU) continental strategy for geographical indications (GIs).
The results of the cooperation
Within the activities that already took place, AfrIPI has supported an application to protect the Cameroonian GI “Penja Pepper” at the EU level. Penja pepper is a type of pepper that grows in the volcanic soil of the Penja Valley in Cameroon, and it is, officially, the first GI from the country.
AfrIPI has also commercially launched ‘Cabrito de Tete’ in Mozambique, the first geographical indication registered in ARIPO. Cabrito de Tete is a local goat breed, from Tete province in Mozambique.
The organisation is currently assisting Egypt, working towards adopting a sui generis protection framework for GIs and their registration.
Egypt has registered three GIs (Matrouh figs, Matrouh olive oil and black Barrani grapes) through an ad hoc procedure and it is expected that AfrIPI and the Egyptian Trademark Office agree on the necessary actions regarding the protection of GIs in the country.
AfrIPI has also organised a three-day study visit to Switzerland by a delegation from Niger, to support the registration at EU level of a geographical indication for Kilichi du Niger. Kilichi is a dried form of suya (a traditional smoked spiced meat), made from cow, sheep, or goat meat.
A side event on GIs was held at the 5th AU-EU Agricultural Ministerial Conference that took place in in June 2023 in Rome. In accordance with AfrIPI, the event aimed at upholding discussions between AU and EU Ministers of Agriculture, as well as representatives of other international and national organisations on the future of the continental strategy on GIs.
Apart from that, the organisation has developed the examination guidelines for trademarks and designs in Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI), as well as it has developed common guidelines on trademarks for ARIPO Member States, amongst other activities related to the protection of IP in Africa.
It has also held seminars and workshops in different African jurisdictions and in relation to different matters, such as the event designed to promote the accession of Mauritius to the ARIPO Protocols, that took place from May 31 to June 2, 2023, in Port Louis. The Republic of Mauritius deposited its Instrument of Accession to the Lusaka Agreement with the Director General of ARIPO on September 25, 2020.
In addition, it has implemented the Africa IP SME Helpdesk. The purpose of the Helpdesk is to raise IP awareness among EU SMEs before entering African markets. For this purpose, AfrIPI organises events/webinars, produces some guides on the IP landscapes in Africa, and consults with EU SMEs over their most basic questions.
The aim of the helpdesk is to provide simple, jargon-free information on the protection of IP assets in Africa and to provide an opportunity to consult with a professional lawyer.
The protection of traditional knowledge as GIs
It is interesting to note that the work of AfrIPI has been particularly focused on the protection of geographical indications from African jurisdictions.
Indeed, Africa is a hub for traditional knowledge, “a living body of knowledge passed on from generation to generation within a community”, in the words of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The protection of traditional knowledge as an autonomous IP right is only now becoming a reality around the African Continent, particularly in South Africa and ARIPO, which have addressed the positive protection of traditional knowledge in the legislation. However, innovations based on traditional knowledge currently only benefit from the protection of patents, trademarks, and, particularly, GIs.
Traditional knowledge may be found in several contexts, including agriculture and animal farming and it is in this field that the GIs arising from African countries take an important role, by way of addressing the protection of products that come from specific regions within the African continent.
The work that has been done and the cooperation between the EU and Africa, is, therefore, worthy of a standing ovation, as the results are visible. The protection of IPRs, and GIs in particular, will result on economic development in the African continent.
Inês Monteiro Alves is legal manager at Inventa. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Africa, Africa Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project, EU, European Union, Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization, trademarks