As Africa’s largest law firm, ENSafrica has a strong presence in Namibia. After all, Bloomberg recently named Namibia as the top emerging economy in Africa, and the 13th highest in the world. Namibia, a country that has a huge land mass and a population of some 2.2 million, is a multi-party democracy that is politically, socially and economically stable. Namibia’s economy is multi-faceted and includes mining, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and tourism.
Namibia is a country that is very keen to attract foreign investment and stimulate local business. The Namibian authorities have long recognised that a smooth regulatory and administrative environment is critical if the country is to achieve its goals. The authorities also appreciate that intellectual property is an important driver of economic activity.
In recent years, Namibia’s Ministry of Trade and Industry established the Business and Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA), an internal unit that will eventually become a fully-fledged state-owned agency. BIPA’s purpose is to function as a central point or one-stop centre for the registration, administration and protection of businesses and intellectual property rights. BIPA is aiming high, in that it wants to simplify processes, improve service delivery, and generally ensure the effective administration of business and intellectual property rights registration. BIPA has a strong board that comprises highly-qualified individuals and will shortly be moving to its own premises.
Namibia now takes intellectual property very seriously. For starters, there’s been a marked improvement over recent years in the quality of, and time periods involved in, official actions issued in response to applications that are filed. Another very positive development has been the fact that a delegation from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) recently visited the Namibian Ministry of Trade and Industry. This was both a fact-finding and an educational visit, in that the WIPO team was keen to both study the Namibian trade mark registration process and suggest ways in which it could be improved.
The most important development has, however, been the passing of the Industrial Property Act, 2012 (“the Act”). The Act seeks to both modernise outdated intellectual property laws and consolidate all intellectual property law in one statute.
The Act does, in many ways, follow international practice. Interesting features of the Act include that it:
- creates an Industrial Property Tribunal that will, inter alia, hear appeals under the Act;
- recognises and regulates “Industrial Property Agents”;
- provides protection for “well-known marks” as understood by the Paris Convention. This has clearly been inserted in order to provide protection to international brands that may not have entered the Namibian market yet; and
- allows for the hypothecation of intellectual property rights by way of deed of security. The authorities clearly recognise that intellectual property rights can have significant financial value.
The Act is not yet in force. Regulations are in the process of being finalised and we understand that as soon as these are ready, the Act will become effective. We will, of course, keep our clients updated on progress in this regard.
The intellectual property practice of ENSafrica's Namibian office is headed by Karin Malherbe, a legal practitioner who has completed the South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law (SAIIPL) Group 1 examinations. Karin is the only legal practitioner in Namibia to be so qualified, and we believe that this is one of the factors that enables us to offer a top-class intellectual property law service in Namibia.