Government to enact tougher anti-counterfeiting laws
Addressing an investors' roundtable at the end of March 2008, President Yoweri Museveni announced that the government is in the process of enacting tougher laws against counterfeiting in Uganda.
This announcement was in response to complaints from local investors about the presence of large amounts of counterfeit goods on the market. The level of piracy and counterfeiting activities in Uganda remains unacceptably high due to the inadequate protection of IP rights.
The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006 aimed to provide protection for literary, scientific and intellectual works (eg, computer programs and electronic data banks) and their neighbouring rights. However, criminal enforcement has not proved to be an effective deterrent against the distribution of pirated and counterfeit products, as criminal penalties are insufficient.
On the other hand, civil enforcement under the Trademarks Act has been more successful. Under the act, an aggrieved party may:
- commence civil proceedings to recover damages;
- request that the court issue a permanent injunction against the counterfeiter; and
- request the destruction of the infringing goods.
The aggrieved party must demonstrate that it is the owner of a registered trademark and that it has priority rights in the mark.
Nevertheless, the existing civil penalties are still insufficient to deter counterfeiters. Therefore, the new laws will aim to ensure that:
- counterfeit goods are destroyed; and
- those who engage in counterfeiting activities are punished appropriately (eg, through heavy fines and prison sentences) and barred from doing business in Uganda.
Although the initiative of the government is commendable, the relevant agencies must be provided with additional financial and human resources. For example, the National Bureau of Standards needs specific funding in order to implement the Counterfeit Goods Bill (once passed by the government). Moreover, efforts should be made to computerize the database of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau and link the bureau's trademark database with that of the Uganda Revenue Authority for the purposes of enforcing border control measures.
Further, it is hoped that Uganda will receive technical and financial support from the World Intellectual Property Organization or the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement Council following the submission of the country's needs assessment in 2009.
Paul Asiimwe, Sipi Law Associates, Kampala
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