Protecting Innovations, indirectly through AfCFTA

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The African Continental Free Trade Area AfCFTA is a free trade area founded in 2018, with trade commencing as of 1 January 2021. It was created among 54 of the 55 African Union nations. One of the important, if not the most important, tools for encouraging and protecting innovations is through patent protection. A country’s economic growth can be, directly and indirectly, linked to the number of patent registrations filed in the country.

Africa is reported as the continent with the least amount of patent registrations, from both residents and non-residents. Whether the low level of domestic patent registrations is due to a lack of education and innovation or monetary factors is a debatable discussion.  Nevertheless, it is clear that a robust policy which encourages and protects innovation in Africa is necessary, and that such a policy should focus on innovation emanating in Africa, whilst providing equal recognition of foreign innovation.

Through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the African continent is working towards a single continental market for goods and services, as well as laying the groundwork for a continental customs union.  As of January 2020, 29 African countries have ratified AfCFTA and more are expected to follow.  Phase I of the AfCFTA negotiations are currently being finalised, focusing on concessions in goods trade, services trade, and rules of origin.  In Phase II, negotiations will focus on investment, competition policy and intellectual property rights.

AfCFTA has the potential to offer an economic boost in Africa, in the form of investment opportunities, economic diversification and job creation.  In turn, the African intellectual property landscape will blossom, increasing the number of domestic and foreign patent registrations in the continent. Smit & Van Wyk is looking forward to contributing towards this goal and seeks to advise the public of the huge potential Africa holds, particularly in light of the AfCFTA agreement.