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“Does that “thing” work in Ghana? I mean that Intellectual Property thing”, my friend Dzifa asked me innocently. I smiled. It was not an unusual question.
Intellectual property generally refers to creations of the mind or intellect. We are all naturally creative, finding solutions to our day-to-day problems. There are some exceptional people among us who have made our lives healthier and more comfortable with creative solutions to regular problems of society.
Edison invented commercially viable incandescent light, so today we can see, even when the sun goes down; Mensah, an artisan, has developed energy saving cooking apparatus; a Kantanka vehicle that alerts pedestrians in a local dialect, any time the reverse gear is deployed. All these are examples of people’s Intellectual Property (IP).
States grant Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) to protect IP. There are two traditional types of IPRs. These are Industrial Property and Copyright & Related Rights. Copyright protects literary and artistic works such as books, audiovisuals, music etc. There is automatic protection the moment a copyrightable work is made. However, for purposes of documentation and prima facie evidence of ownership, the creator of the work may apply to the relevant institution for a certificate of ownership. In Ghana, the relevant State institution is the Copyright Office.
Industrial Property Rights (Patents, Trademarks, Industrial Designs etc.) protect inventions, brands, aesthetic value of products etc. The Industrial Property Rights are directly or indirectly linked to industry. The inventions may be new products or processes. Unlike Copyright, Industrial Properties are protected only after registration with the relevant State institution otherwise the work goes into public domain. In Ghana, the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) administers Industrial Property Rights.
The IP system requires an inventor or owner of a creative work, to disclose his works in exchange for protection by the State. This means that the IPRs are territorial in nature. Protection is provided on a State-by-State basis. This arrangement creates a win-win situation for both sides. The inventor gains monopoly over his works for a limited period of time, while the public benefits from the invention and also creates an opportunity for others to build on the inventor’s information when his protection period expires. This process helps society to build on the bulk of existing knowledge. IP owners may permit others to exploit the rights through licensing or assignment.
Let us briefly analyze the IP system in Ghana. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an IP System includes: the legal quality of IP; IP Operations and Procedures; IP Law; IP Enforcement and Litigation; International Dimension; and IP Skills and Training (see www.oecd.org/innovation/inno/ip-studies.htm).
Legal Quality of IP & IP Law
The National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy (2016) revealed that the IP laws of Ghana have tried to keep abreast with global trends, however there are some shortfalls, which are being addressed. For example, the Industrial Property laws need updated Regulations to facilitate implementation.
IP Operations and Procedures & IP Skills and Training
The two State Institutions have semi – automated systems and need to be fully automated. There are delays at RGD mainly due to understaffing and inadequate understanding of the users of the system. There is a need to train all users of the IP system and general creation of IP awareness.
IP Enforcement and Litigation
The relevant enforcement institutions are the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS), the Police Service and the Judiciary.
CEPS is responsible for border measures, to prevent infringing goods from entering the country. This is an international obligation. Businesses in Ghana are encouraged to utilize this facility.
The Police Service is responsible for enforcing IPRs, which have entered the channels of trade. They investigate and where necessary prosecute infringers on behalf of the Attorney – General. They focus mainly on Piracy and Counterfeits.
The High Court, particularly, the Commercial Court adjudicates all matters relating to IPRs. However, one must have a protected IPR to effectively utilize the IP enforcement system.
Ghana is party to relevant international IP treaties. Consequently, users of the system, have access to international facilities within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO).
In my view, the IP system generally needs improvement. Copyright appears to be better utilized than the Industrial Properties Rights. We need more IP awareness. I urge businesses and researchers to place value on their IPRs, take steps to protect and exploit such rights, for better enforcement of the rights. Again, I encourage Ghanaians to utilize the IP System to reap maximum benefits from the system.
It is my considered position that Intellectual Property Rights generally work in Ghana despite the challenges of the IP system.
The author, Mrs. Sarah Norkor Anku is an Intellectual Property Law Expert at the Registrar – General’s Department, Accra.