For some, Africa is a continent of poverty and conflict, shaped by its colonial past and dictatorships or unrest that followed. Others are slowly beginning to realise that the concept of an African Renaissance, popularised by South African ex-president, Thabo Mbeki, may become a reality in time.

In terms of African economies, it is interesting to note that a number of African countries have had continued economic growth above 5% over the last couple of years, ie even during the Global Financial Crisis1. In fact, the continent’s average growth in GDP is estimated to be about 4.8% in 2013 and projected to be 5.3% in 20142.

According to the AEO, the total external financial flows to Africa reached a historic high of an estimated US$ 186.3 billion in 20123. It is well-known that China is heavily investing in Africa, building railroads all over the continent to access commodities. Some sources say that Malaysia is an even bigger direct investor through firms such as Petronas and Sime Darby. Other investing countries are France, the US, Britain, India and South Africa, to name but a few. The move of US giant Walmart in 2011 to buy Massmart , the third largest distributor of consumer goods in Africa, made it clear that the world’s eyes are turning to Africa as a market, not only for oil, mining, agriculture, telecommunications and the like, but also as a consumer market.

Africa’s growth and the investment focus on Africa should make the continent a region to consider in terms of intellectual property. In this regard it is important to note that Africa has two regional patent systems, OAPI (Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle or African Intellectual Property Organization) and ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization). Even though the larger African economies of South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt do not form part of the regional systems, the OAPI and ARIPO system provide a relatively cheap, easy and effective way of extending patent protection to a total of 35 African countries with a combined nominal GDP of US$ 420 billion.

A comparison between the two regional patent systems is provided below.

Click here to view table.