The year 2017 was certainly a year in which fundamental changes took place in Zimbabwe, not only from a political and economic perspective, but also from an intellectual property viewpoint. Our team has listed a few highlights worth noting.
MADRID PROTOCOL IMPLEMENTATION | AN UPDATE
The Regulations implementing the Madrid Protocol in Zimbabwe were published on 13 March 2017. This formally brought the Madrid Protocol into operation in Zimbabwe with effect from 13 March 2017. The effect of the regulations is that Madrid applications are now being formally processed by the Zimbabwe Trade Marks Registry.
Despite the publication of these regulations, it appears that quite a number of these Madrid applications may have been missed by interested third parties during the opposition period, as only a few seem to have been published in the Trade Mark Journals. All in all, proprietors who wish to register Madrid applications designating Zimbabwe may do so, as such applications/registrations are now formally recognised as valid and enforceable in Zimbabwe.
REGISTRY DIGITISATION | IPAS
The Registry commenced the process of digitising official files through the IPAS system. Although this has proven to be a time-consuming exercise, as it has led to delays in the registration process due to staff-shortages, it is indeed welcomed as it is essential for the effective operation of the Madrid system and commencement of the proposed on-line filing of all applications. In addition, it will ensure that IP agents are able to easily access the trade mark records directly from their offices.
However, until such time as the Registry records are completely digitised and the processing of applications is handled promptly, trade mark proprietors are well advised to seek National protection rather than relying on IR designations.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY TRIBUNAL AND ZIPTA
The Judicial Laws Amendment (Ease of Settling Commercial and Other Disputes) Act 7 of 2017 was officially promulgated into law on 23 June 2017. The purpose of this Act is to create separate divisions of the High Court which specialise in the adjudication of cases in particular areas of law. In this regard, the Act has established the Intellectual Property Tribunal as a specialised division of the High Court. In order to bring Zimbabwe’s legal proceedings into the digital era, the Act also provides for ‘virtual sittings’. Virtual sittings are convened, subject to mutual agreement between the parties, where a party cannot be physically present at a hearing. These particular parties are now able to participate in court hearings by way of use of electronic devices or other means of communication. Provision is also made for the electronic authentication of Court documents and electronic access to records filed with the Courts.
It is noteworthy that the Intellectual Property Tribunal will hear its maiden appeal in 2018, which should provide clarity on the effectiveness of the appeal procedures available within the Tribunal.
Furthermore, it is business as usual at the Registry as far as litigious matters are concerned. There are certain aspects of the opposition procedure, in particular, which warrant attention, but these are being discussed by ZIPTA (Zimbabwe Institute of Patent & Trademark Agents), in an effort to streamline and shorten the process. It is envisioned that these suggestions be proposed to the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in the near future.
REGIME CHANGE | IMPLICATIONS FOR IP
Perhaps the most pivotal change was when the president of the country resigned in November. This political shift came as a shock to many, as none believed that his rule would ever come to an end. During the past few decades, the economy in Zimbabwe has taken a major knock, due to a decline in investors, inflationary pressures, food production shortages and an unemployment rate of about 95%.
Despite the political and economic challenges that Zimbabwe has faced during those years, the Intellectual Property sector remains fairly robust, as the Registry has experienced some activity in terms of filings by local attorneys. As we all know, it is vital to seek the protection of one’s products and/or services through trade mark, design and/or patent registration to shield off competitors. According to the president of ZIPTA, the number of filings currently remains low, compared to previous years, with an average of under 100 trade mark filings taking place at ZIPO every month. Most of these filings are instructed from the US and South Africa. Although the filings have decreased a bit, there are prospects that the position will change, as the country enters into this new chapter of likely economic growth. As such, owners of Intellectual Property rights are encouraged to take the steps necessary to protect their rights in Zimbabwe, as investors will certainly scramble to take advantage of the new dispensation.