The Africa Network Meeting brings together intellectual property practitioners and registry officials, representing 23 jurisdictions, for the largest summit of its kind on the continent.

The 6th annual Africa Network Meeting was held at the offices of Adams & Adams in Pretoria, South Africa from 13-14 September 2018. It was attended by intellectual property practitioners and registry officials representing 23 jurisdictions across the African continent and is the largest meeting of its kind on the continent and the only meeting allowing African IP professionals to meet and discuss emerging IP issues on the continent. Boutique IP law firms are rare in Africa. Most IP attorneys on the continent operate as part of larger commercial law firms which may have little or no institutional IP knowledge or backup. It is for this reason that the Africa Network Meeting has evolved into a platform where the sharing of ideas and experiences across all areas of IP has become essential to the professional development of IP practitioners on the continent.

The theme of this years’ event was “The role of Intellectual Property in Emerging Economies.” In his opening remarks, Adams & Adams Chairman, Gérard du Plessis, stressed the need for robust analysis and discussion on the state of IP systems on the continent as the protection and enforcement of IP was an essential factor in growing Africa’s economies. Ludwick Marishane, a young South African entrepreneur – named by Google as one of the ’12 Brightest Young Minds in the World’ – was invited as Guest Speaker for the event. Ludwick is South Africa’s youngest patentee and inventor of the DryBath product, a waterless hygiene product which he invented at the age of 17. Ludwick gave insights into his entrepreneurial voyage and engaged the delegates in robust discussions about the role that IP should play in encouraging growth and development in Africa.

Head of the Trade Marks Division at the Companies & Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) of South Africa, Ms. Fleurette Coetzee led a panel discussion with officials from OAPI, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. This provided an opportunity for representatives from these jurisdictions to provide updates on the status of digitisation in their offices. The IP registries in most African countries are poorly funded and face shortages of IT and human resources which affect their ability to render efficient and effective IP services to applicants wishing to protect their IP rights. The reports delivered by the panel revealed that significant progress has been made. However, while most countries have introduced some level of automation and online services, improvement will be slow as a result of resource shortages and the lack of technical proficiency of new staff.

For the first time in the Africa Network Meeting’s existence, brand owners Absa and AB InBev, were invited to discuss their branding strategies in Africa. Both Absa and AB InBev provided delegates with insights regarding their marketing and branding strategies in Africa. Absa, a South African based bank with offices across Africa, has recently undergone a brand relaunch. Delegates were treated to insights into the process when launching a new brand. Jenny Moore, Head of Special Projects, Marketing Corporate Relations at Absa Group Limited also shared some of the challenges faced during the process.  “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.

Pieter van den Bulk, Global Director Intellectual Property at AB Inbev, the World’s largest brewing company, based in Leuven, Belgium, stressed the importance of the African market place. Pieter made reference to the different marketing and legal approaches to protecting and enforcing their brands on the continent. Whilst challenges certainly remained in processing cases through some Registries and the courts, the improvement on both the legislative and operational front in many African countries must be commended.

Lita-Miti Qamata, Senior Associate at Adams & Adams moderated a panel of IP practitioners from Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya who were given an opportunity highlight and discuss recent trade mark litigation matters in their countries. This was followed by a presentation by Partner, Kelly Thompson, who discussed IP issues in social media in a presentation entitled “Protecting brands in the era of Trump, Tweets and Twitter Stars”

Danie Dohmen, Partner at Adams & Adams, moderated a panel aimed to update delegates on recent changes in the patent field in ARIPO, Madagascar and Ethiopia with a particular focus on the status of substantive examination of patent applications in their jurisdictions.

Adams & Adams Partner, Werina Griffith’s 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.

The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for delegates to share experiences and ideas. It is hoped that the meeting will continue to grow and provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and development of capacity in the IP field on the African continent.

Gérard du Plessis
Partner | Trade Mark Attorney
Simon Brown
Simon Brown
Partner | Trade Mark Attorney
Nicky Garnett
Partner | Head of Africa Patents
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