9 January 2012

African Union? AIPO, ARIPO, Banjul Protocol, ESARIPO, OAPI, OAMPI...

Confused? You could be forgiven.

Africa has two distinct multi-jurisdictional systems for obtaining trade mark protection; add the Madrid System into the fray and you can make that three. It's easy to mix them up especially if you or your clients do not have interests in Africa on a regular basis.

When I first start working in the world of trade marks it was much simpler: there was just one, OAPI. This is a French acronym for l'Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle. If it doesn't confuse you further, this was previously OAMPI (the "M" for "et Malgache" to reflect Madagascar's then membership that has since ended) but I am thankfully not old enough to remember this.

As is our English way, we have a tendency to translate into our mother tongue even with acronyms and OAPI therefore becomes AIPO, the African Intellectual Property Organization.

However, acronyms can be unwieldy and the term 'African Union' was also used to describe OAPI, but politically this is misleading. It's no wonder people got confused. My preference is for OAPI, I find it rolls off the tongue better than AIPO.

Given its French acronym it is unsurprising to know that OAPI is primarily an organisation for francophone African countries. It has 16 members:
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad 
  • Congo
  • Côte d'Ivoire 
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Gabon 
  • Guinea 
  • Guinea-Bissau 
  • Mali
  • Mauritania 
  • Niger 
  • Senegal 
  • Togo 
For the record, Guinea-Bissau is a Portuguese-speaking nation. Furthermore, French does not enjoy official status in Mauritania, but it is widely used by the educated classes, France being the former colonial power. In Cameroon, English is official alongside French. The OAPI office is based in Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital, and whilst the official forms are prepared in French they have allowed specification of goods and services to be attached in English which can save translation time and expense.

OAPI in its current guise dates from the 1977 signing of an accord in the now Central African Republic capital of Bangui, at the time capital of the infamous Central African Empire.

OAPI could be said to be Africa's version of the Community Trade Mark. It is a unitary right and you cannot pick and choose what countries you want covering, it's all or nothing, unlike with the Madrid Protocol. Perhaps interestingly most of the member countries are tied by their currency with most having either the Central African CFA franc or West African CFA franc; whilst technically two separate currencies they are tied to the Euro at the same rate.

Unlike the CTM though, national Offices do not run in parallel to OAPI. In the past both Guinea and Mali had their own Trade Marks Offices (both are subsequent members of OAPI). The Guinea Register is still operational to renew, assign, record Changes of Name, etc. although I understand questions have been asked if Guinea's membership of OAPI could have automatically resulted in old national registrations being effectively repealed. Nevertheless, it is possible to extend older OAPI registrations to subsequent joiners like Guinea and Mali - and the other latecomers, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

All these 'Guineas'! Guinea itself is sometimes referred to as "Guinea (Conakry)" to distinguish it from the others, Conakry is its capital. If I was ever to have a pet guinea pig I would surely name him or her, "Oapi". There's also Papua New Guinea, but this is far away from Africa and, of course, not a part of OAPI.

We will cover ARIPO, the Banjul Protocol and ESARIPO in a new blog soon.