8 March 2013

Ethiopia introduces trade mark law

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has recently introduced trade mark legislation to replace its quirky Cautionary Notice system.

This is positive news for Africa's second most populous country - it's ahead of Egypt and only behind Nigeria in this respect - and one of the world's fastest growing economies.

The country's coffee industry has made significant efforts around its brands - with the support of their IP Office - so it was important their own trade mark law was brought up-to-date.

During the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th Century, Ethiopia was one of only two African nations not to have been controlled by one of the European powers of the time. It retains pride with this fact and perhaps this explains why the new law, which is modern in the main, contains some quirks. A seven-year term of registration stands out. Perhaps they are conscious on losing out on renewal fees bearing in mind the old system established six-year terms, with short-form Cautionary Notices to be published in intervening two-year periods. It has also shown no enthusiasm for joining the Madrid Protocol club.

Certain bureaucratic elements are retained, namely, the need to submit a legalised Power of Attorney and a legalised "home" registration certificate. At least the latter requirement has been relaxed and a legalised Extract of the Commercial Register can be submitted as an alternative.

Well-known marks are recognised, priority can be claimed and registrations will be vulnerable to cancellation on the grounds of non-use if they are not used for a continuous period of three years.

There is an 18-month "sunrise" period in which owners of existing rights filed before 7 July 2006 can re-register their trade marks under the new law. The deadline in which to file these - and claim the filing dates of the existing rights - is informally set at 24 June 2014.

Applications filed after 7 July 2006 will be prosecuted under the new law. If they are already registered then it is possible to request fresh, updated Certificates of Registration and indeed it seems advisable to do this.

As is typical when a country introduces a new trade mark law there remain practical details that are unknown. Waiting to see how things will operate is not a bad idea, but I would recommend that trade mark owners with interests in Ethiopia should look to make their re-registration decisions shortly. This will give them plenty of time to collate all the necessary supporting documentation and file it with their applications. This will help avoid late filing expenses and also, perhaps more importantly, help the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office remain organised and speed up registration times.

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