According to the World Economic Forum, Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa. The country has come a long way since the Tutsi genocide devastated its economy more than two decades ago. Rwandans are now generally living healthier and wealthier lives and poverty rates have fallen in recent years.
With the huge economic strides made by Rwanda in the past 20 years, there is a sense of a real African success story bringing hope for the future. Serious considerations for conducting or doing business in Rwanda must be made in good time. On this note, it is also important to create awareness on protecting IP rights, including trade mark rights in the country, which is fundamental to doing business.
A trade mark registration provides protection to the owner of a mark by ensuring the exclusive right to use it to identify goods or services, or to authorise another person to use it in return for payment. The owner shall also have the right to institute proceedings against persons who infringe his rights by using the registered trade mark without his consent.
Trade mark law may also be used to hinder the activities of unfair competitors, such as counterfeiters, who attempt to use similar signs/marks to market inferior or different products or services. In a bigger sense, registering trade marks promotes initiative, creativity and business by rewarding the owners of trade marks with recognition and financial profit. The law protecting trade marks enables people with skill and enterprise to produce and market goods and services in the fairest possible conditions, thereby facilitating international trade.
The process of registering a trade mark in Rwanda involves a limited number of procedural and documentary requisites. This is designed to facilitate easy and relatively cheap registration of trade marks. For a foreign applicant, the Registry only requires that the applicant appoints a local representative law firm, submission of an application form (containing full details of the applicant, a clear reproduction of the mark and a list of goods or services in respect of which the mark is to be used), a notarised power of attorney and a certified priority document, if priority is claimed. The costs to file an application are below US$1000 (inclusive of professional fees, official fees and disbursements).
The timeframe to secure registration (provided no obstacles are cited and no oppositions are raised) is quick insofar as African countries are concerned. Applications are normally examined and published (if accepted) within 6 months of filing. If the 60 day opposition term expires uneventfully, the application proceeds to grant and a registration certificate is issued. The registration is valid for a period of 10 years from the date of filing and is renewable indefinitely for 10 year periods. The renewal process is likewise quick and hassle-free. It is not necessary to prove use of a trade mark when applying for registration, nor is this required when applying for renewal in Rwanda.
Rwanda is a member of the Madrid Protocol, Lusaka Agreement on ARIPO, The Paris Convention and the Convention establishing WIPO. This is not an exhaustive list. Being a member of these Treaties has facilitated an environment conducive to protecting trade mark rights in Rwanda.
By law, Rwanda is a first-to-file country but in practice, the Registry recognises common law user rights. Protecting one’s trade mark rights cannot be overemphasised. While registration of a trade mark is not compulsory, it is advisable to do so since registration provides a cost-effective way to prevent infringement and also prevents others from appropriating and registering one’s trade mark. Rwanda is booming so consider protecting your trade marks and filing for registration today!