Tim Lince

The African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI) held its first annual Brand Awards recently, in which cash prizes and trademark filing vouchers were given to local brands judged to be distinctive. Talking to World Trademark Review, OAPI’s director of legal affairs and cooperation, Maurice Batanga, says that the initiative has proved effective – and encourages other IP offices to consider a similar approach to promote innovative use of trademarks.

The OAPI Brand Awards were held on September 13, 2016 in Yaounde, Cameroon, and coincided with the 54th anniversary of the organisation. There were three awards up for grabs, although it is understood that could be increased next year. They were:

  • OAPI Grand Prize: with a reward of 2,000,000 XAF ($3,269 USD) and a voucher for the filing of two trademarks;
  • OAPI Best Local Brand Prize: with a reward of 1,000,000 XAF ($1,634 USD) and a voucher for the filing of one trademark;
  • OAPI Public Prize: with a reward of 500,000 XAF ($817 USD) and a voucher for the filing of two trademarks.

The judging was conducted in two ways. A committee was setup that consisted primarily of OAPI staff and an inter-patronal group of Cameroon Secretariat staff, who organised the specific criteria and rules governing the awards. Trademarks were then selected from the OAPI database (which, from the last count in 2014, has 4,808 filings annually), and members from the committee chose the winner of the Grand Prize and the Best Local Trademark. The Public Prize was voted for by ballot papers distributed to the public a week before the event.

The judging panel, Batanga explained, looked for “highly distinctive marks, remarkable growth at the national level, economic impact of a local community, or remarkable development following a marketing campaign”. The Grand Prize winner was RIVERR (belonging to Cameroon dairy company Camlait); the best local brand was micro-finance company CREDIT DE SAHEL; and the Public Prize was clinched by media brand CANAL 2 INTERNATIONAL.

Talking afterwards, Batanga noted that that the awards were an initiative of the organisation’s director general as a way to “stimulate entrepreneurship within member states” and “reward ‘best use’ of trademarks”. He went on: “The awards are, amongst other things, about raising awareness of the importance of IP protection in general, and of trademarks in particular. It is about encouraging companies to use trademarks beyond just registering them – to develop and commercialise their brands, products or services. Therefore, we wanted to reward the efforts made by companies that do that and also encourage businesses from across the OAPI member states to integrate intellectual property into their development strategies.”

Batanga says he is now attempting to convince other IP offices across the world, especially in developing nations, to undertake a similar initiative. “The first OAPI Brand Awards were a great success thanks to the great echo across the region, especially in Cameroon, among the media and of local companies. So I strongly recommend other IP Offices, around Africa and the rest of the world, to host similar awards in an effort to push the trademark message.”

The success comes in the wake of a controversial period for OAPI. In January, an IP law firm was suspended by the office in a continuation of a bitter battle between the organisation and a group of agents who claim that its recent accession to the Madrid Protocol was implemented illegally. Nonetheless, OAPI appears to be looking onwards and upwards – both in its awards initiative and possible expansion plans.

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