The 6th annual Africa Network Meeting was held at the offices of Adams & Adams in Pretoria, South Africa, recently and was attended by intellectual property practitioners and registry officials representing 45 jurisdictions of Africa. This is the largest meeting of its kind on the continent.

The theme of the 2018 event was “The role of Intellectual Property rights in the growth strategies of emerging economies.” In his opening remarks, Adams & Adams Chairman, Gérard du Plessis, stressed the need for robust analysis and discussion on the state of processes and systems on the continent if the meeting was to agree that IP was indeed central to growth in Africa. Guest speaker, Ludwick Marishane, inventor of the DryBath challenged the philosophy of intellectual property in highlighting the age-old dilemma of educating people about protecting and monetising their ideas. This question was regularly posed to officials throughout the course of the summit.

Head of the Trade Marks Division at the Companies & Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) of South Africa, Ms. Fleurette Coetzee led a panel discussion with registry and regional organisation officials. This provided an opportunity for representative of OAPI, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to provide updates on the status of digitisation. Their reports revealed encouraging signs that significant progress is being made at the registries, but highlighted challenges of resource shortages and the lack of technical proficiency of new registry staff.

For the first time in Africa Network Meeting’s existence, brand owners were invited to discuss their branding strategies in Africa. Both Absa and AB InBev provided information on their filing strategies in Africa and lamented the problem of communication by some registries in respect of trade mark registration. “The timing (and confirmation) of registration when launching, or re-launching a brand is of vital importance and we need to be sure that our partners at the IP registries understand the pressures of our industries,” commented Taryn van Schalkwyk, Head of IP, Group Legal at Absa Group Limited.

Lita-Miti Qamata, Senior Associate at Adams & Adams moderated a panel of IP practitioners who each commented on a number of recent litigation matters in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa, and this was followed by a presentation by Partner, Kelly Thompson, who discussed hashtags and the protection of brands in the era of Trump, Tweets and Twitter Stars.

Many countries in Africa do not currently conduct any form of examination of patent applications, but are considering the options in this regard. Danie Dohmen, Partner, explored the various approaches to patent examination in an interview with regional body ARIPO, and officials from the IP offices of Ethiopia and Madagascar.

Werina Griffith’s (Partner) closing presentation on Rapid Prototyping provided the perfect précis to the Africa Network Meeting discussions – with a warning that the disruptive technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution require an accelerated and discerning response from a legislative and administrative perspective, if the meeting were to agree that intellectual property rights are central to the success of emerging economies in Africa.