By Denis Bohoussou, Director General, African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), Yaoundé, Cameroon
The African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) is at the forefront of African integration, serving the intellectual property (IP) needs of 17 countries in Africa. Since its establishment in 1962, OAPI has been building on the willingness of countries in the region to pool their efforts to establish a balanced and effective IP system to protect and add value to the region’s innovative and creative outputs.
OAPI administers a uniform system for the protection of industrial property (e.g. patents, trademarks, designs, geographical indications, plant varieties) covering all of its member states. That system is underpinned by the Bangui Agreement, which was concluded in March 1977 and revised in February 1999.
Not only do OAPI’s members share a common IP law, they also share the same IP office, OAPI, the headquarters of which are based in Yaoundé, Cameroon. OAPI offers simplified, accessible and affordable services that make it easier for inventors and businesses to protect their technologies, brands and designs in all 17 OAPI member states.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Today, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace, IP is becoming an increasingly important part of the development and growth strategies that companies and countries are using to improve their competitive advantage and foster national economic growth.
Without doubt, the advanced technological innovations and new business models spawned by the ongoing digital transformation will, and are already beginning to, disrupt traditional industries and challenge the status quo. But they also promise significant new opportunities for economic growth.
Within this dynamic, OAPI’s top priority – and one that lies at the heart of its Strategic Plan 2018-2022 – is to support member states in their strategic use of IP to catalyze technological, economic and social development. To this end, we are working with universities, research centers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across OAPI member states to enable them to increase their contribution to the technological and commercial innovation that is essential for socio-economic development and business competitiveness.
Our aim is to encourage universities and research centers within the region to embrace the IP system to improve the quality and quantity of the innovations that flow from their cutting-edge research and to facilitate their commercialization. That is why we are working to raise awareness among universities and research centers about the benefits of following the guidelines formulated by WIPO and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) on the implementation of IP policy in universities.
As a further incentive for researchers to use the IP system, OAPI has halved the costs associated with filing patent applications for inventions and innovations that come from universities and research centers in OAPI member states.
We are also supporting innovation and inventors through our participation in international and African trade fairs, including the Salon Africain de l’Invention et de l’Innovation Technologique (the African trade fair on invention and technological innovation), which OAPI organizes once every two years.
Recognizing the brake that a lack of financial resources can put on innovation, OAPI is also working to redesign financial support mechanisms for invention and innovation across the region. Our aim is to develop dedicated financial structures to strengthen the region’s capacity to produce high-quality patented innovations and to support their commercialization.
Supporting small and medium-sized businesses
In addition to our awareness-raising and training activities, which take place within all member states, OAPI also works directly with SMEs through its IP audit program. This initiative seeks to help companies optimize their IP assets by working with professional IP consultants who evaluate their IP situation and suggest strategies to optimize the value of their IP. The program also encourages companies to recognize the importance of intangible assets to their business and to move towards more up-to-date and IP-focused business practices.
Also, given the central importance of agriculture to the region and the need to improve agricultural productivity and efficiency in an environmentally neutral way, OAPI is working to promote the development of an effective system of plant variety protection. Such a system will boost the development of agriculture in OAPI member states.
We are also working with communities of producers to add value to regional African products through the use of geographical indications and collective marks. Africa has a wealth of high-quality regional products, the commercial value of which is largely ignored. Our aim is to turn this situation around by encouraging effective and strategic use of the IP system across the region.
Central to all of OAPI’s activities is its commitment to helping member states embrace the modern technologies that can support their economic development goals. In a world characterized by ever more intense economic competition, only by laying the groundwork now, will we be able to create opportunities for future generations and ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of innovation in the years ahead.