Although it is little known thus far on the continent, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) has been quietly and steadily touching the lives of millions of Africans in terms of copyrights, trademarks, patents, and other forms of intellectual property. It has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and inaugurated its brand new headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe (pictured below). As Africa's intellect-based output increases, it is time for ARIPO to emerge from the shadows and take its rightful place among the continent's crucial pan-African institutions.
If you are an African, chances are that if you are stopped in the streets today and asked if you have ever heard of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARlPO), you will respond by asking ARI-who? But for the past 40 years, ARIPO's activities have touched your life in many ways without you knowing.
In fact, ARIPO has been key to protecting Africa's intellectual property rights through patents, trademarks, copyrights, utility models, industrial designs, plant varieties, traditional knowledge and expressions of folklore, and geographical indications as well as contributing towards the shaping of the African and global intellectual property landscape.
Without ARIPO, and its Francophone counterpart, the Organisation Afraicaine de la Propriete Intellectuelle (OAPI), most African inventors would have found it difficult to protect their Intellectual Property (IP) rights on African soil. Thus, quiet ARIPO has been a big saviour although most Africans do not know that it exists at all or is working on behalf of their countries.
As ARIPO's current Director General, Fernando dos Santos, explains: "The IP system creates incentives for people who come out with innovative ideas to solve problems facing society." It does so by protecting their rights so that they are not robbed of the products of their minds.
According to Emmanuel Sackey, ARIPO's
Intellectual Property Development Executive, "because IP relates to the creations of the mind (the fruits of intellectual endeavour) today we see IP as playing a central role in driving the economies of nations. It is crucial to the development of mankind."
Remarkably, for a long time ARIPO took it for granted that people knew about the organisation and the good work it does, but in reality even in its member states, the majority of people do not know that ARIPO exists at all.
This is a function of the 'echo-chamber' effect in which because our activity is important to us and we are surrounded by people for whom it is also important, we mistakenly project that 'echo' to outside the chamber and believe that everybody else must know all about us. Many African institutions suffer from this effect without being aware of it and go unrecognised for decades--until, hopefully, somebody realises that they need to actively reach out to the wider world.
Thankfully, that realisation has dawned and ARIPO is determined to make up for lost time. Director General Dos Santos says: "ARIPO'S current vision is to be pan-African and the leading IP hub in Africa. We adopted our current vision to foster creativity and innovation for economic growth and development on the continent."
It is just and right that ARIPO's many achievements should be well publicised throughout Africa and the world. Having grown from humble beginnings from its birth in 1976, ARIPO has matured into an IP giant today, with a brand new headquarters complex in Harare, Zimbabwe, that will be the envy of any organisation destined to do great things in the future.
With 19 member countries, and many more waiting in the wings to join, ARIPO celebrated its 40th anniversary on 9 December, 2016 with a proclamation that many will find it difficult to disagree with: "Truly an African success story", the anniversary brochure proudly announced.
Says Director General dos Santos: "ARIPO has travelled a long journey with many challenges but always with achievements around the next bend in the road. The world is constantly changing around us, and with it our working environment, and so we, at ARIPO, have gone on to reach...