And, businesses and brands looking to operate in Africa need to be aware of what is happening, says Edwin Tabaro, an IP and litigation expert with KTA Advocates in Uganda.
Tabaro was interviewed recently by Africa Legal’s Craig Sisterson on protecting creativity and the evolution of the IP landscape in east Africa.
“Africa is undergoing regional integration processes that are going to create single markets, so IP is undergoing certain challenges which WIPO and other organisations may not have prepared for.”
The East Africa Community (EAC) provides for freedom of movement of goods, “so territoriality, as we know it, is no longer applicable in the free trade area,” he said.
A partner at KTA Advocates in Uganda, Tabaro has argued ground-breaking IP cases, including first-of-their-kind litigation on image rights and enforcement of trade secrets.
He is an expert in regional IP law across the EAC, which consists of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. During his career, he’s seen an evolution.
“There’s been a huge change from 10-15 years ago, which can be linked to the 4th industrial revolution,” he says. “Many people in Africa and Uganda have access to phones which are relaying a lot of information. What we have is no longer a phone, it’s a gadget that helps people do just about anything. I’ve seen surveyors using apps, doctors using them with diagnoses.”
Uganda has a positive attitude towards innovation, says Tabaro, with the government supporting young creatives with several innovation hubs that have led to new products and offerings.
“There has been a significant increase in utility models and patent filings as a result of the growing innovation space and the support from the different sectors,” says Tabaro. However, many innovators don’t fully appreciate that they need to protect their innovations and IP.
Along with advising international businesses on filings and IP strategy in Uganda, KTA Advocates helps educate and assist local creators with protecting their innovations. One example is “the Jaguza app”, a technological innovation in animal husbandry that uses AI.
“It works in such a way that you can detect an animal’s behaviour – if it’s hungry, if it’s sick – through your phone or internet,” says Tabaro. “It basically fixes the appliances at your farm, and every day you wake up you’re able to observe the health of your animals from your gadget.”
While KTA Advocates offers a full suite of commercial law services to clients ranging from leading banks to early-stage entrepreneurs, IP and technology are at the heart of the firm. It’s a member of Amani IP, a close-knit partnership of IP and TMT professionals.
“We’ve been practising IP law for a long time, and have a team of lawyers who’ve taught the subject at university, worked with WIPO, the European Union,” says Tabaro. All of the firm’s lawyers are “highly focused on IP and technology”, regardless of practice area.
As Tabaro sees it, in the modern world IP is vital no matter the sector, as so much nowadays is run through or with the assistance of technology. From the Jaguza app to advising on the registration of the “Janzi”, invented as an improvement on a traditional musical instrument.
“We see IP and technology, two areas we specialise in, overlap across almost every subject, from banking to oil and gas, construction, and arbitration,” says Tabaro. “I’d encourage any brand or patent owner to come invest in our region and know their brand can be protected.”
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