Valuable goods, services and intellectual property are being exported into Africa because the continent is becoming a focal point for global expansion, says Webber Wentzel Senior Associate, Carla Collett. With this type of expansion comes increased competition and the risk of imitation. It is for this reason that professionals need to make sure that their intellectual property rights are adequately protected before embarking on any expansion strategy.

Some of the factors to take into account when looking to protect your brand value and intellectual property rights include the following:

1. Domain name registration
Purchase the generic top level domain name in each country or jurisdiction that you plan to operate in. Registering domain names is fairly easy and domain names are granted on a first come, first serve basis, so this should form part of your defensive brand strategy.

2. Licensing or distribution arrangements
Expanding into Africa will offer numerous way to distribute products and services. Before you conduct a full scale roll out in Africa, secure licensing and/or distribution arrangements so that the manner in which intellectual property ownership, use and enforcement is established between all relevant parties.

3. Trade mark, design and patent registrations
Many African territories don’t protect common law rights, which means that brands cannot be protected from infringement by third parties without the registration of trade marks in these territories. The protection of trade marks in strategic territories and territories which form part of retail distribution routes, is also a useful mechanism in the fight against counterfeiting, which is an ever present reality when trading on the African continent.

There are two regional intellectual property offices operating in Africa, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) and the African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI). An ARIPO registration facilitates the central filing of trade marks, designs or patents in any or all of the designated member states. Although a single application is filed to cover more than one designated member state, the registration which results is essentially a national registration in each designated member state. An OAPI trade mark, design or patent registration extends automatically to all 17 member states.

For more information, contact Webber Wentzel on Tel: +27 (11) 530 5000 or via www.webberwentzel.com.