Intellectual property rights are vital for any business
The intellectual property law, promulgated in 2009, is seen by most people as a tool to combat piracy and protect musicians’ copyrights. What is less known in Rwanda, is that is also offers vital protection for businesspeople.
According to Joyce Banya a counselor for least developed countries division at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property refers to a product of the mind, of creativity and innovation, in many areas, and which needs to be registered somewhere, licensed and protected as a property.
“Property can be real, personal, capital or intellectual. So it can be a product creation or investment related, and because that property will have to give to the owner revenue, employment, and appreciation, it should be possible to license it,” she explained.
That is why Rwanda recently promulgated the intellectual property law, joined the international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), and became a member of Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), in a bid to conduct businesses and do trading with the rest of the world in a more transparent way. Banya appreciated the achievements made by the country in as far as registering, trademarking, and copyrighting are concerned.
“You have achieved in a few years what some other countries take 10 good years to do,” she said, adding that the focus should now be on implementation. “When there is a legal framework and related strategic plans, it becomes very easy to embark on the implementation phase, and that is what Rwanda is doing.”
According to registrar general Louise Kanyonga, Rwanda in the past relied on international conventions and did not take into account the Rwandan context; neither did it put into consideration the concept of individual works or personal rights.
She said that the government had embarked on an ambitious reform project aimed at enhancing Rwanda’s business climate in support of the national targets to turn the society into a middle-income and knowledge-based economy by 2020, driven by the private sector.
“In this context, Rwanda adopted the intellectual property policy in 2009 aiming at integrating Rwanda into international intellectual property regulations while safeguarding the freedom needed to drive its own innovation system,” Kanyonga said. “There was also a need to efficiently use resources, increase of access and technologies for local innovators, and to reward and promote them through the same system.”
She agreed with Banya however that while the regulatory framework is in place, more efforts are required to ensure that is also effectively used. “Today, we have many innovators who have no idea that their ideas can be protected by the law, so we are currently working on an awareness campaign to make the concept of intellectual property rights, and how they work in practice, better known,” the registrar general announced.
That is music to the ears of Diane Bampire, an administration officer at mushroom-growing and -processing company BN Producers in Kigali, who said that greater awareness of intellectual property rights would not only ensure that businesspeople can protect their products, but also ensure clear procedures to deal with copycats.
“In our company we have heard of and even seen people who duplicate our products because they were selling well. Others would even sell own products under a different name,” Bampire explained. “We can now use the law to handle such matters, otherwise we may continue to put much efforts and resources in our products while other make money out of it.”
However, she added that the process of protecting the products abroad is rather complicated, since it requires you to also register them in the countries where you sell them.
Joy Ndungutse, founder and CEO of Gahaya Links, a company of international renown selling weaved products such as baskets (uduseke), has seen the benefits of things such as trademarks and patents ever since her company’s arts and crafts started to make it big in countries like the USA. And while she thinks that proper protection is a great advantage for exporters, she said it is also beneficial for local traders.
“When you are selling your products abroad, you need to craft your products very carefully for you to be able to compete in the market and make your products sell well,” Ndungutse said. “At Gahaya Links we have come a long way in coping on the international market, but getting our trademarks has certainly helped us to compete fairly well.”