As the continent continues with the agenda of achieving the African Continental Free Trade Area
(AfCFTA), one of the key results is a single continental market for goods and services. As this happens, brand owners need to have strategies in place to deal with intellectual property issues that will arise in the process. And again, Africa is unique!
In my previous article here
, I looked at some of the common misconceptions when it comes to doing business on the continent with a particular focus on intellectual property rights protection.
Although this list is not exhaustive, in this article I briefly touch on the key helpful tips for intellectual property protection and enforcement in Africa for foreign brand owners. Here are the key tips:
- Do your due diligence: Before entering a new market, it’s always prudent to conduct comprehensive research on the legal framework, cultural norms, and business practices in the region to understand the potential challenges and opportunities for your brand.
- Register your trademarks: This should be the top priority for any brand owner. This can be done through the relevant national or regional authorities, such as the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) or African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO). These two regional bodies cover about 70% of the continent. Direct applications can also be done in jurisdictions of interest outside OAPI and ARIPO.
- Engage local partners: Partnering with legal and IP experts, local distributors or agents and local enforcement authorities who have knowledge of the local market is critical. This can help you navigate the cultural, legal and business landscape efficiently and effectively.
- Consider brand localisation: Africa is diverse and a one-size-fits-all approach will not work! Foreign brand owners should consider adapting their branding, messaging and product offerings to the local market to appeal to the cultural preferences and buying habits of local consumers.
- Monitor your brand: Continuously monitor your brand for any potential infringement or unauthorized use, and take prompt legal action when necessary. As the world continues to innovate, there are new technologies, business models and platforms that can help protect and enforce intellectual property rights. Africa's e-commerce users are forecast to surpass half a billion by 2025 with 40% penetration. This raises the need for brand owners to collaborate with online marketplaces.
- Seek legal advice: Nothing beats expert guidance from resident practitioners! Brand owners should always consult with legal experts who specialize in intellectual property and business law on the continent. AfricanLaw is a great starting point to engage verified service providers across Africa.
In a nutshell, brand owners need to be pro-active in their strategy and approach. More often than not, action is triggered by an act of infringement.