Uganda's Intellectual Property Landscape: Progress and Challenges

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Uganda's Intellectual Property Landscape: Progress and Challenges
Garfield Spence (Konshens)

World IP Day: A Cause for Celebration with Reservations

Uganda joins the global celebration of World Intellectual Property Day, but commercial lawyers caution that enforcement remains a critical hurdle despite a sufficient legal framework.

Growing Awareness, Increased Protection Measures

Joel Roy Mucunguzi, a lawyer at Signum Advocates, acknowledges progress in IP rights awareness, particularly among creative professionals. This translates to more rights owners seeking protection measures in Uganda and the East African region.

Joel Roy Mucunguzi a lawyer with Signum Advocates says that is that there’s been some progress in terms of awareness about IP rights especially where creatives are concerned, and this means that there has been an increase in the protective measures taken by rights owners in Uganda and the East African region generally.

He adds that rights owners have become more keen on making provisions for the protection of their rights when entering service agreements, and where infringement happens, there has been a slight increase in enforcement measures ranging from opposition, and even litigation.

“The clearest example is the number of IP cases delivered by Ugandan courts in 2023 alone. The Garfield Spence (Konshens) decision opened the eyes of creatives about the exploitation of their works by corporations, the A- Plus v A-Class case clarified that simple phonetic similarity between companies’ names in the absence of a registered trademarks does not have the same effect”

Mucunguzi remarks that “The Jena herbals (COVIDEX) case, even though resolved on a procedural point, shed light on the rarely explored point of patent ownership”

Rights Owners Take Action

Mucunguzi highlights a positive shift: rights owners are increasingly incorporating IP protection clauses in service agreements. Additionally, there's been a rise in enforcement actions like filing oppositions and pursuing litigation cases.

Landmark Cases Pave the Way

Mucunguzi cites key court decisions that have empowered creators:

  • The Garfield Spence (Konshens) case: Educated creatives about exploitation by corporations.
  • The A-Plus v A-Class case: Clarified that phonetic similarity alone, in the absence of registered trademarks, doesn't infringe on rights.
  • The Jena Herbals (COVIDEX) case: Though resolved procedurally, shed light on patent ownership, a less explored area.

The Road Ahead: Strengthening Enforcement

While progress is evident, IP enforcement in Uganda remains a work in progress. The goal is to create an environment where innovators, creatives, and IP users feel confident in utilizing and commercializing their rights.

Uganda's IP Framework: A Snapshot

  • Ugandan law protects intellectual property rights.
  • Enforcement of anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting laws is weak.
  • The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) offers a standardized registration process for all IP types.
  • Although the court system allows rights owners to enforce their rights, enforcement itself is lacking.
  • Uganda signed the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Patent Law Treaty in 2000 but hasn't ratified it yet.
  • Uganda isn't listed on the United States Trade Representative's Special 301 report or the notorious market report.
  • In a positive development, Uganda adopted the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization's (ARIPO) draft protocol on regional voluntary copyright registration in August 2021.

Conclusion

Uganda's IP landscape demonstrates progress in awareness and legal framework, but robust enforcement is needed to fully empower creators and innovators.

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