The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) is an inter-governmental organization (IGO) that facilitates cooperation among member states in intellectual property matters, with the objective of pooling financial and human resources, and seeking technological advancement for economic, social, technological, scientific and industrial development.
The history of ARIPO goes back to the early seventies when a Regional Seminar on patents and copyright for English - speaking African countries was held in Nairobi. That seminar recommended that a regional industrial property organization be set up. In 1973 the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) responded to a request by these English-speaking countries for assistance in pooling their resources together in industrial property matters by establishing a regional organization. Following a number of meetings at ECA headquarters in Addis Ababa and WIPO in Geneva, a draft Agreement on the Creation of the Industrial Property Organization for English-speaking Africa (ESARIPO) was prepared. This agreement, now known as the Lusaka Agreement, was adopted by a Diplomatic Conference held in Lusaka, Zambia on December 9, 1976.
Reasons for establishing ARIPO
ARIPO was mainly established to pool the resources of its member countries in industrial property matters together in order to avoid duplication of financial and human resources. Thus the preamble to the Lusaka Agreement clearly states that member states are "aware of the advantage to be derived by them from the effective and continuous exchange of information and harmonization and co-ordination of their laws and activities in industrial property matters". Member states also recognized that the "creation of an African regional industrial property organization for the study and promotion of and co-operation in industrial property matters would best serve" that purpose.
Objectives of ARIPO
In determining its objectives, the founding fathers of the organization took into account the fact that, at that time, the majority of the countries concerned had "dependent industrial property legislations" which did not provide for original grant or registration in the countries concerned but could only extend to their territories the effects of industrial property rights obtained in a foreign country (in most cases the United Kingdom). Such effects were normally governed by law of the foreign country. The objectives of the Organization, as enshrined in Article III of the Lusaka Agreement, show that, cooperation in industrial property is intended to achieve technological advancement for economic and industrial development of the member states. This cooperation is reflected in the objectives of the Organization which are:
a. to promote the harmonization and development of the industrial property laws, and matters related thereto, appropriate to the needs of its members and of the region as a whole;
b. to foster the establishment of a close relationship between its members in matters relating to industrial property;
c. to establish such common services or organs as may be necessary or desirable for the co-ordination, harmonization and development of the industrial property activities affecting its members;
d. to establish schemes for the training of staff in the administration of industrial property law;
e. organize conferences, seminars and other meetings on industrial property matters;
f. to promote the exchange of ideas and experience, research and studies relating to industrial property matters;
g. to promote and evolve a common view and approach of its members on industrial property matters;
h. to assist its members, as appropriate, in the acquisition and development of technology relating to industrial property matters;
i. to do all such other things as may be desirable for the achievement of these objectives.
It is clear from the above objectives that the common thread running through them is the idea of cooperation. The concept of cooperation plays an important role in the functions of the Organization.
Membership to ARIPO is open to all African States members of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa or the African Union. There are currently 19 States which are party to the Lusaka Agreement and therefore members of ARIPO. These are: Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Organs of ARIPO
ARIPO is governed through various organs. These organs are; the Council of Ministers, Administrative Council, Board of Appeal and the Secretariat. The Administrative Council has subsidiary bodies, namely Finance Committee, Audit Committee, Staff Affairs Committee and four Technical Committees.
Council of Ministers
It comprises Ministers of governments of ARIPO Member States who are responsible for the administration of intellectual property laws in their respective countries. It is the supreme organ of the Organization. The Republic of Zambia is the current Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
The Administrative Council is composed of heads of offices responsible for industrial property and copyright in Member States. The Administrative Council is subordinate to the Council. The Administrative Council has subsidiary Committees in place to administer the affairs of ARIPO. These are; Finance, Audit, Staff Affairs and Technical Committees.
Board of Appeal
The Board of Appeal is established to hear and review appeals against the administrative decisions of the Office in the implementation of the ARIPO protocols. It is independent of any organ of the Organization.
The Secretariat is responsible for the day to day activities of the Organization and implementation of policies issued by the Administrative Council or/and the Council of Ministers. It is headed by a Director General who is the principal executive officer of the Organization. Each holder of the office must be a citizen of an ARIPO Member State.
Current Functions of ARIPO
Aspirations of the Lusaka Agreement have since its signing been expounded into practical implementation by additional treaties each focusing on a specific subject of intellectual property.
These treaties are:
(a) the Harare Protocol on Patents and Industrial Designs,
(b) the Banjul Protocol on Marks,
(c) the Swakopmund Protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore and
(d) the Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.