• African IP Office launches new programme to expand GIs across region
  • Primary goal will be ensuring member states have national GI framework
  • The programme is the first major project from OAPI’s new director general

The African Intellectual Property Office (OAPI) has launched a new programme in its ongoing effort to introduce and expand geographical indications (GIs) across its 17 member states. This is the first major project from OAPI’s new director general, and would represent a significant step forward in the ability to register GIs in Africa.

As a recent announcement confirmed, OAPI has begun the second phase of its ongoing programme to implement geographical indications (PAMPIG) across its 17 member states. It will be a four-year deployment programme of activities, with technical and financial support provided by the French Development Agency (AFD). The primary aim is to “foster an institutional climate conducive to the development of geographical indications both at the level of OAPI and its member states”, the office stated. It will build on the first phase of the PAMPIG, which was the initial push for GIs in the region that began in 2008 and led to the implementation of national GI committees and the registration of three GIs (specifically Penja peppers and Oku white honey from Cameroon, and Ziama Macenta coffee from Guinea). This next phase will concentrate on introducing GI procedures in four countries, specifically Benin, Cameroon, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, and across six additional industry sectors.

Talking at the launch event, OAPI’s new director general Denis Loukou Bohoussou – who started in the role in August – spoke confidently on how effective the programme will be. “The first step is to capitalise on the achievements of the initial phase, to extend the GI system to other products and to expand the number of OAPI member countries benefiting from this approach,” he explained. “The experience gained in the first phase will allow us to identify many more products in the Member States and to support a number of products that are ready to [be protected as] geographical indications. Ultimately, we now know that the label contributes to the preservation of traditional knowledge and know-how, while providing an income consisting of producers, and this is the objective pursued from the ground up by this programme.”

Reiterating that sentiment is Christian Yoka, director of the AFD in Cameroon, who said that the past work of OAPI in this regard has “demonstrated that it is possible to establish and make known GIs in sub-Saharan Africa”, adding: “It is therefore important to build in this area, the emergence of a sovereign African expertise, a significant local and international clientele and to establish the necessary structuring of existing channels. It is up to us to build this process with the perseverance and rigour required by quality and notoriety. It is also our collective responsibility to ensure that the first GIs are not victims of the illegal process, and the repression of fraud that undermines the virtuous circle of GIs must be countered with the utmost energy.”

It is no doubt a long road ahead before GIs are fully implemented across all of OAPI’s member states, but optimism abounds with those tasked with implementation. Talking to World Trademark Review, the GI programme’s manager Michel Gonomy said he is primarily tasked with promoting to brand owners how OAPI has “one of the most unique communal protection systems of GIs in the world”, and noted three key areas he is working on currently: “We need to reinforce and consolidate capacity building in the GI management area; support members states to allow them get their own GI national framework and policy for promoting local specific products; and implementing new GIs in members states.” The next step, he mentioned, is a regional seminar on December 11 that will further discuss GI implementation during the annual meeting of OAPI’s board of directors in Niamey, Niger.

As we noted in April, OAPI is going through a self-described “period of transition”, with new management and systems being put in place. Just three months after the new senior management team took over, it appears that OAPI is already diving into major projects that should have a positive impact for brand owners on the ground. The hope, then, is that a multinational system of GIs is implemented without too many hurdles or roadblocks along the way.