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ARIPO: Paving the Way to Patenting Across English-Speaking Africa

Published on 20 June 2017

Home to more than a billion people, the African economy has tripled since the year 2000 (Michael Lalor; 2014). Further, the continent houses 9 of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world (Spoor & Fisher; 2016), presenting immense business opportunities. In this article, we shall take a look at an organization that facilitates patenting in 18 of the 54 countries that make up the continent.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization

Established in 1976 under the auspices of the Lusaka Agreement, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization ("ARIPO") is a regional Intellectual Property system comprised of mostly English-speaking African economies: Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé & Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (ARIPO Annual Report; 2016). The organization, which was formerly known as "ESARIPO" (English Speaking ARIPO), originally contained only English-speaking African countries as its members. However, it has subsequently opened up its membership to non-English speaking African countries as well and currently has three such members: Mozambique, São Tomé & Príncipe, and Somalia. The countries that have English as an official language and are not members of ARIPO are: Burundi, Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa, and South Sudan.

Over the last 40 years, the organization has played a significant role in shaping the Intellectual Property landscape in Africa. Though it receives an average of only about 700 applications per year (ARIPO Annual Report; 2016), its significance is expected to grow in the coming years as Africa becomes an increasingly favored investment destination. Thus, companies will need to consider utilizing ARIPO in the development of a pan-African filing strategy.

A confusing, yet interesting aspect of ARIPO is the fact that it is empowered by separate protocols to grant patents/designs/utility models, trademarks, and new plant varieties. The Harare Protocol on Patents and Industrial Designs, which came into force in 1984, empowers ARIPO to "grant patents and register industrial designs as well as utility models on behalf of the Harare Protocol contracting states" (ARIPO Annual Report; 2016). The Protocol is in force in all the ARIPO member states, except Somalia.

Yet another interesting aspect of the ARIPO system is that it provides flexibility to member states to refuse a patent granted by ARIPO in their individual territories (Oraro & Company Advocates; 2015).

The Costs of Obtaining a Patent with ARIPO

Let us now study the costs involved in obtaining and maintaining a patent through to expiry with ARIPO. Typically, there are only two categories of costs involved: official fees and attorney charges.

The total estimated costs that might be incurred by a company over the lifecycle of a 40-page PCT National Phase patent (including five pages of drawings), amount to $57,032 (Table 1). It is assumed that the company is interested in: Sudan, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia (five designations). These are the top-five ARIPO jurisdictions based on GDP ranking, as provided in the "Statistical Country Profiles" section of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The costs are inclusive of a 20% discount on the filing fee for Going Green (i.e. electronic filing), in addition to the fees for excess claims (beyond 10 claims) and excess pages (beyond 30 pages) that are to be paid at the time of grant. While this Go Green incentive is only half of what is offered by the European Patent Office, it is better than the Eurasian Patent Office and the Gulf Cooperation Council Patent Office, which do not have similar incentives in place.

An advantage of the ARIPO system is that the fee schedule is published in US Dollars. The official fees to be paid at the time of filing an application are $757 (basic filing fee, designation fee, and abstract preparation fee), while those to be paid for requesting a search and examination report and during the grant phase are $600 and $1,150 respectively.

The estimated prosecution costs are inclusive of the attorney charges for reporting a single office action, preparing the response, and processing the response.

The annuities or maintenance fees, which are to be paid from the first anniversary of the filing date (in respect of the second year) to the 19th anniversary of the filing date (in respect of the 20th year), constitute approximately 90% of the total estimated costs. When compared to other regional patent organizations, this proportion is unusually high. In the Eurasian Patent Office and the Gulf Cooperation Council Patent Office, for instance, annuities constitute only around 60% - 70% of the total estimated costs (Anthony de Andrade and Venkatesh Viswanath; 2017).

Estimation of ARIPO Patent Costs

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Venkatesh Viswanath (Senior Analyst, Quantify IP) contributed to this article.

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