EUIPO launch of AfrIPI aims to shake up trademark registration in Africa

AfrIPI is the EUIPO’s first IP-focused project that collaborates with African jurisdictions. Expected to last four years, it was launched in February 2020 and the Project Steering Committee’s inaugural meeting was on 7 September 2020. In addition to the European Commission and the EUIPO, the other project partners are the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), the African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI) and the African Union Commission.

At the inaugural meeting, AfrIPI's general plan and future activities for the coming years were discussed and approved, the main objective of the project being to increase the protection and promotion of IP rights in Africa, thus contributing to national economies, trade and business across the continent.

AfrIPI also aims to reinforce EU and African cooperation to further implement all IP-related aspects of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation. The AfCFTA covers 54 African countries, with the exception of Eritrea, which has not yet signed the agreement. However, due to covid-19, the implementation of the AfCFTA – previously scheduled for 1 July 2020 – has been postponed until 1 January 2021.

The EUIPO intends to extend the reach of existing tools and databases (eg, TMview and DesignView) to third countries and provide support to the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights outside the European Union. Thus, greater collaboration is expected with regard to:

  • sharing tools and practices;
  • increasing public awareness of IP rights and their violations; and
  • improving the sharing of knowledge, skills and methodologies.

The European Union Intellectual Property Network has developed a number of tools to facilitate trademark and design registration workflows, which range from trademark/design and classification searches to entire front and back-office systems used by national and regional IP offices. TMclass allows users to search and translate products and services to and from any of the 44 languages available, while DesignClass allows users to search and translate product indications in 28 languages.

Once implemented, platforms such as TMclass and DesignClass will be able to assist European companies that wish to enter the market in one or more African jurisdictions by submitting applications for the registration of trademarks and designs. These tools will also support African companies that intend to enter the European market, as the list of products and services provided in their country of origin will be harmonised with the European list.

Following the introduction of the AfrIPI project, on 3 August 2020 the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) joined the TMclass and DesignClass systems. Uganda is the first African country to take this initiative, based on the partnership between the URSB and the EUIPO. This type of direct partnership between African IP offices and the EUIPO is hopefully the first of many that will occur in the coming years.

Finally, AfrIPI will also support:

  • the registration of geographical indications in Africa and the European Union;
  • the development of IP guidelines for OAPI and ARIPO member states; and
  • training for IP examiners on international frameworks (eg, the Hague Agreement).

There will be a great deal of news on the development of AfrIPI across the continent over the next four years. In the meantime, the protection and recognition of IP rights in Africa will only continue to grow.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of WTR's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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