By Susan Mwiti, Documentations and Communications Officer, ARIPO

The Geographical Indications (GIs) Conference for the ARIPO Member States held from 10 to 12 November 2021 concluded with a promise that GIs from Africa will have a better chance of protection and economic gain.

The Conference defined a strategy amongst the ARIPO Member States to set up a GI legal framework on a regional or national level that would demonstrate the importance of GIs for the national and regional markets.

In his closing remarks, the ARIPO Director General, Bemanya Twebaze, expressed his optimism that the future of Africa on the use of GIs as a tool for economic development was foreseeable. He noted that the Conference was significant by adding value to the participants’ knowledge & experience on GIs.

Some of the suggestions agreed upon included the review of national laws to have a sui generis system of protection.

It was agreed that there is a need to develop guidelines to operationalize the registration of GIs, conduct capacity building for the examinations for the GIs, and the verification process by relevant stakeholders to be clear before registration.

Other proposals included creating general awareness on enforcement of the IP rights in line with GIs, benchmarking exercises to the different GIs jurisdictions for best practices, and local researchers’ engagement to identity potential GIs in the countries for protection. It was noted that there was also a need for support for branding and packaging initiatives for market access. GIs would need to be exhibited at national, regional, and international trade fares for market visibility.

GIs are defined in Article 22(1) of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1995 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.”

GI speaks of people, places, and products and helps fight unfair competition, improves consumer information, preserves rural development, and preserves cultural assets in the case of globalization.

There are essentially two approaches to the protection of geographical names. That is a “public law approach”: where public authorities enact legislation dedicated to the specific protection of GIs, so-called sui generis law and through a “private law approach”: using laws against unfair competition, passing off or trademark law (collective or certification trademark).

 Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Uganda, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique have adopted sui generis legislation to protect GIs at the national level.

For other ARIPO Member States, it is work in progress: Botswana, the Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, the United Republic of Tanzania (except for Zanzibar), Zambia, and Malawi. Meanwhile, the private approach applies to register and protect GIs in this country.

The remaining countries: Kingdom of Lesotho, Somalia, Sudan, and the Kingdom of Eswatini, are yet to have a registration system.

In 2019, Mozambique registered the first GI of the Cabrito de Tete goat through the sui generis system. Other trademarks from the ARIPO Member States are the Vanilla Mukono from Uganda and Kenya, the Taita Baskets, Coffee Kenya, and Finest Tea.

The Conference was officially opened on 10 November 2021 by the Permanent Secretary Mrs. Virginia Mabhiza on behalf of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi.

ARIPO organized the regional Conference in collaboration with the Africa Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project (AfrIPI), an European Union (EU) funded project implemented by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).