By Ezra Steinhardt and Fredericka Argent

In late September 2012, a commission of the African Union (AU) published the final draft text of a statute to establish a new Pan-African Intellectual Property Organization (PAIPO).  The publication of the draft is the culmination of a process that began in 2007, which included consultations with AU Member States, regional IP offices, and collective management organizations, and the active participation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

PAIPO is designed to complement and supplement two pre-existing regional organizations (the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI)).  The draft text sets out PAIPO’s objectives, which include:

  • Promoting the harmonization of the intellectual property rights systems of the AU Member States;
  • Initiating activities designed to help Member States use their IP systems to effectively fight IP piracy and counterfeits;
  • Developing African common positions on IP matters — and in particular developing common positions on IP issues relating to genetic resources, traditional knowledge, geographic indicators, expressions of folklore and the Convention on Biological Diversity; and
  • Helping to develop and lead African IP positions in international IP negotiations.

To achieve these objectives, PAIPO will exercise a range of functions.  As well as developing guidance and information, PAIPO will also promote bilateral and multilateral IP agreements between AU Member States, in order to promote the “protection and exploitation” of IP rights, and will be empowered to “facilitate” the harmonization of regional and national AU Member State IP legislation.  Notably, PAIPO will also have the power to set forth IP standards — although, as the draft text does not specify whether the standards will be binding, it appears that at least initially the standards will be non-binding models.

The organization will be split into a Council of Ministers (made up of AU Member State Ministers in charge of IP issues in each relevant Member State), an Experts Committee (also effectively representing the AU Member States), a Board of Appeal, and “The Office”, which will be held by a Director General appointed directly by the Chair of the AU for a 4-year term.

The draft PAIPO statute is due to be presented to a meeting of the AU Ministers in the course of their summit from 12 to 16 November in Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo.