What is Intelectual Property Law?
Intellectual Property Law, also known as IP, governs the ownership and accessibility of ideas and inventions on tangible and intangible concepts. In an extremely competitive world, IP is an integral part of business. The ownership of ideas, products or concepts are usually protected in the form of patents, trademarks or copyrights.
Patents- A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period of years in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the invention. The electronic lightbulb is one of the most famous patened interventions which was awarded to Thomas Edison.
Trademarks- A trademark is a recognisable sign, design, or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. An example of this is the Mcdonalds golden arch. They are known by their trademark.
Copyrights- A copyright gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative work, usually for a limited time. For exmaple, you need a copyright to be able to use artists music for background audio on YouTube (e.g Beyonce). YouTube content creators often have to use uncopyrighted music from independent artists.
What does IP law involve?
The majority of an IP lawyer’s work will involve providing legal advice on usage, commercial viability, marketing and sitribution mechanisms, infingement or duplication, vesting of ownership and usage of rights for any product or matter which falls within the cope of IP. Similar to most areas of the Law, IP also has contentious and non-contentious components. As an IP lawyer, your job will consist of a number of activities such as issuing notices to parties infringing on client’s rights, searching through patent registries in relation to a new product, innovation or idea brought forward by one of your clients.
How to be a good IP lawyer
IP offers the opportunity of dealing with very interesting yet complex cases. It is vital for the lawyers to stay up to date with innovation and business trends and also to understand and appreciate creative work and processes. Contracts are a big part of IP law, which means drafting expertise is key.
IP in Africa
In 2006, George M. Sikoyo, Elvin Nyikuri and Judi W. Wakungu wrote a research paper on Intellectual Property protection in Africa with a focus on Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana (link attached). In their paper, they said that though most African countries have taken, or are in the process of taking the steps to ensure legislative compliance with international IPR (intellectual property rights) norms, they lack capacity to effectively implement and harness these norms for national development. They have limited understanding of IPRs and the implications of instituting effective IP protection systems. There are very few people and institutions in the continent with experience and capacity to handle IPRs, especially with respect to trade, competition, investment and other recent global imperatives.
However, there has been development in this area since 2006. Over the years, the main IP focus in Africa has been to establish and develop basic IP infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, capacity-building, and human capital. The goal now is to put these IP tools to work in support of the economic objectives of African economies. African economies are increasingly seeking to add value to their innovative and creative resources through the IP system. There has been a steady increase in law firms offering IP law expertise to their clients and this number will only rise.
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