A new breed of legal support

Why IP rights are crucial to Tanzanian SMEs

2019-05-01 15:30:31

By Paul Kibuuka @tzpaulkibuuka

Too few SMEs and start-ups in Tanzania amply understand intellectual property (IP) rights and their benefits in today’s increasingly competitive and knowledge-driven economy. Yet IP rights are critical to business decision-makers.

A digital strategist and financial technology expert at Flago Creative Mr. Imani Alfayo tells me that “All over the country new amazing products, brands and creative designs are launched every day, thanks to human creativity and innovation.”

Therefore, I bring insight into the importance of IP rights for SMEs and start-ups in Tanzania. I also highlight the legal and institutional framework and the different mechanisms of IP rights in Tanzania.

But first: what are IP rights? There is no clear-cut definition of the term “intellectual property (IP)”. Generally, it refers to the creations and inventions of the mind—both artistic and commercial. Thus, IP rights are the rights given to a person over the creations and inventions of his mind.

Those rights give the person (creator) an exclusive right over the use of his creation and invention for a certain period of time.

Article 24 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania allows ownership of property and guarantees.

In this connection, Tanzania has enacted the following pieces of legislation to promote and protect IP rights: (i) the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, 1999 (which governs copyright issues); (ii) the Trade and Service Marks Act, Cap 326 (which governs trade and service marks); (iii) the Patents (Registration) Act, Cap 217 (which governs patents); and (iv) the Merchandise Marks Act, 1963 (which combats counterfeit goods).

Some of the institutions that administer the registration of IP rights in Tanzania include the Copyright Society of Tanzania (COSOTA) and the Business Registration and Licensing Agency (Brela).

A fact often overlooked is that Zanzibar has its own IP law called the Zanzibar Industrial Property Act, 2008 which governs, inter alia, patents; trade and service marks; and industrial designs.

It is worth noting that Tanzania—a member of the African Regional Industrial Property Organization (ARIPO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO)—ratified the Agreement on the Creation of the African Regional Industrial Property Organization (ARIPO) 1979; the Protocol on Patent and Industrial Designs within the Framework of ARIPO (the Harare Protocol) 1982; and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

Also, the country accepted the protocol amending the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on 14 March 2016.

Tanzania’s IP domestic legislation and treaty membership highlighted above should help build trust and confidence in the country’s growing IP and business landscape to protect IP rights of SME and start-ups.   

IP rights are valuable intangible assets for Tanzanian SMEs and start-ups; perhaps among the most important they possess.

Just like physical property, IP assets, which include patents, copyrights, trade and service marks, and designs, can be financially exploited i.e. sold or licensed in return for payment (a fee or royalty).

Every SME and start-up has such assets, though they may not be aware of it. Protecting IP rights encourages SMEs and start-ups to engage in creative and innovative activities that promote job creation and stimulate healthy economic growth.

Thus, it’s of utmost importance for SMEs and start-ups to have practical knowledge of IP rights. This will help them to integrate IP assets into their business planning and strategy.

Some IP rights require a formal application and examination process before they can be registered subject to payment of the prescribed fees, while others (e.g. trade secrets) require no registration.

However, having IP rights is of no value if those rights are not enforced. Depending on the nature of the infringement of IP rights, Tanzanian SMEs and start-ups can take a number of steps including court action to end the infringement though it’s advisable to explore first mediation and/or other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

In next week’s article, we will delve into patents to find out what they are, how they work and how an inventor in Tanzania goes about getting one.

Paul Kibuuka is the managing partner of Isidora & Company Advocates. Email: Twitter: @tzpaulkibuuka This article was first published in The Citizen on Saturday, 27 April 2019.

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