Online Trade Mark Filing System Introduced in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO), in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) has adopted an online trade mark filing system. The development was borne of an agreement between EIPO and WIPO to modernise the IP system in Ethiopia.
The new system is expected to change the culture of doing business and obtaining trade mark registrations in Ethiopia. There will be less reliance on hard copy records; therefore, the efficiency of EIPO is likely to improve overall.
The online system facilitates the filing of applications for the registration of trade marks. However, the prescribed fees and original supporting documents, such as legalised Powers of Attorney, which are still required, will need to be presented at the Registry by an agent once the online application has been reviewed and approved by an examining officer.
The online filing system will, hopefully, contribute to the issuance of more accurate trade mark registration certificates.
The very first online trade mark application was filed by Adams & Adams, through our Associate Office, on the 8th of April 2019.
Partnership between Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) and European Patent Office (EPO)
The EPO has been expanding its footprint into the continent, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with various African IP Offices. Recently, the EPO and EIPO signed a Biennial Work Plan, which is aimed at assisting the development of an Ethiopian national patent system, streamlining patent procedures, and building local capacity to ensure efficient and high-quality patent examination. In practice, the impact of this plan has been seen in the way applications filed at the EIPO have been processed and examined.
It appears that the two organisations are also looking into the possibility of entering into a validation agreement wherein patents granted at the EPO can be validated in Ethiopia. This will not be the first validation agreement that the EPO has signed with African Registry. North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia have signed a validation agreement with the EPO.
The Tiff over Teff – Traditional Knowledge
Recently, the Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States of America, Mr. Fitsum Arega, tweeted that the Court of The Hague had just handed down judgment in a matter in which two Dutch patents, concerning the processing of Teff, were held invalid for lack of inventive step. His tweet continued: “I hope we can learn from this that our national assets must be protected by Ethiopians & friends of #Ethiopia.”
Teff is a nutrient-rich gluten-free grain that has long been an integral part of Ethiopia’s heritage. It is used to make Injera, a pancake-like flatbread, which forms a staple part of the Ethiopian diet.
The Dutch patents were in the name of a company that is owned by Dutch businessmen who reportedly received traditional knowledge (TK) regarding Teff from Ethiopia. According to various media reports, the agreement would see the TK exploited in order to benefit both parties.
However, the businessmen were not party to the agreement in their personal capacities, but through a company that subsequently went insolvent. As a result, their contractual obligations to Ethiopia with respect to the TK were terminated. As such, the businessmen then assigned the patents into another entity’s name and were able to exploit them free of any contractual obligations towards Ethiopia.
In South Africa, the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill is currently before the National Assembly, awaiting final approval before being enacted into law. The Bill aims to protect South African TK and avoid situations, like the one previously mentioned, where TK is exploited by third parties, for no benefit to South Africa, and without legal recourse.
KEY OPPORTUNITIES & CONCERNS
- Wise investment policy has given Ethiopia the title of East Afri ca’s largest economy
- Dynamic foreign policy that brought peace with Eritrea in 2019 and a Nobel Peace Prize to Prime Minister Ahmed has expedited investment
- Spending on infrastructure has made Ethiopia East Africa’s air transport hub, introducing modern urban light rail to Africa and boosting industry with industrial parks
- Agriculture land is limited and requires investment in new technology for better yields
- Ethiopia’s landlocked placement geographically adds to shipping costs
- Education levels are low and skills tutoring is required for a modern workforce