Friday, April 12, 2024

Low Intellectual Property awareness in The Gambia’s booming business sector

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By: Hadram Hydara

Since The Gambia passed the Intellectual Property Act nearly a decade ago, there has been a remarkable increase in the registration of new businesses in the country, with a significant portion of them being Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

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Between January 2014 and October 2023, more than 51,000 sole proprietorships and close to 22,000 limited liability companies have been registered.

However, there’s nothing specific on business or trade in the Intellectual Property Act which risks violations of patents and trademarks while impeding innovation. With the low awareness of IP across the business sector, how does a newly registered business ensure protection?

“What we do is that we look at what the SME does and advise you based on your trade. It could be branding, innovation, or artistic work. If that is determined then we advise that to get protection for branding, you need to file for trademark application. If it is products that have unique shapes, we advise them to file for industrial design application. If it is innovation, we advise them to do a patent or utility model application. If it is artistic work, we advise them to do voluntary registration of copyright and related rights.

“All these rights are provided for in the Industrial Property (amended) Act 2015, except copyright and related rights,” Abubakar Jaiteh, IP expert formerly of The Gambia Ministry of Justice, notes.

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Level of awareness

The Gambia’s Ministry of Justice has set up an Intellectual Property Office headed by the Registrar General responsible for creating and strengthening IP awareness. The office also receives and processes applications for IP protection.

On 12th September 2023, the IP Office in collaboration with WIPO built capacities and raised awareness of policymakers and small and medium enterprises. The three-day training was meant to emphasize the importance of IP in development.

Jaiteh said there is a need to raise awareness since the majority of those running sole businesses have no idea what IP is.

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“It is very low. IP awareness in The Gambia is low,” he said.

“Many businesses here are sole trading that aren’t strong financially, so they won’t mind having strong IP portfolio. With the introduction of the capital market, I hope that businesses would advocate for better IP portfolio.”

At the seminar in September, the Solicitor General and Legal Secretary, Mr Hussein Thomasi, was quoted: “The experiences of selected African countries have shown that trademarks, certification marks, collective marks, and geographical indications can be powerful tools for wealth creation and economic growth.”

Education

Intellectual Property (IP) in The Gambia is divided into two main areas: industrial property and copyright and related rights.

Industrial Property is under the Ministry of Justice while Copyright is under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

The Gambia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), while also being a signatory to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Berne Convention, and the Harare Protocol. The Gambia also adopted the National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy in 2021 to foster IP as a tool of development.

Chance to learn more about IP

In The Gambia, a lot of businesses lack awareness of intellectual property (IP) rights. The Intellectual Property Act does not have any specific provisions related to business or trade which may lead to infringements of patents and trademarks, and hinder innovation. Therefore, it is crucial to provide education on IP rights to promote innovation and prevent violations. Explore more about the Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy of The Gambia here https://wipolexres.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/gm/gm010en.pd.

In order to promote African innovation, AfrIPI conducts awareness sessions in universities to emphasize the significance of intellectual property (IP). These sessions cover various topics such as conducting IP searches for patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and other types of registrable IP.

Join us in shaping the future of African innovation and trade by following #IP4Africa on social media at @AfricaIPR and @_ARIPO. Explore more about AfrIPI’s initiatives at afripi.org and discover how intellectual property is driving progress across the continent.

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