The European Commission has launched a new initiative – the ‘Africa IP SME Helpdesk’ to enable EU businesses to find detailed and practical information on African intellectual property matters and address specific questions through an online Helpdesk within a maximum of 3 working days. The Africa IP SME Helpdesk will be implemented by the EUIPO, through the Intellectual Property Rights & Innovation in Africa (AfrIPI) project.
SMEs will be able to submit their enquiries to the Helpdesk related to protecting their IP rights in Africa through the dedicated Helpline service. IP experts will analyse them and confidentially give useful advice within a short delay. The Helpdesk also aims to support IP capacity building along the full scale of IP practices from awareness to strategic use and their successful exploitation.
Hear from the European Commission
According to a press release by the European Commission – over the years, EU-Africa trade relations have deepened. In 2020, the EU was Africa’s largest trade partner, accounting for 31% of Africa’s exports and 29% of its imports. This coincided with close to 70% of goods exported from the EU to Africa being manufactured goods. Meanwhile, most African countries enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market, and manufactured goods dominate EU exports to Africa.
With the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and its flagship project, the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Africa-EU business relations, and in particular SMEs, have reached a wider relevance. In addition, intellectual property (IP) has become a cornerstone of AfCFTA and Africa-EU trade relations.
‘At the heart of our efforts are people, entrepreneurs and business leaders like you. Take advantage of the many resources available, including the EU’s new Africa IP SME helpdesk. It supports European SMEs with intellectual property rights management across Africa and helps African businesses gain access to global value chains’, said Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships.
‘Today marks an important milestone for the promotion of intellectual property rights in Africa among EU businesses. The new IP SME Helpdesk will encourage Africa-EU trade by promoting intellectual property and will be valuable not only to EU SMEs, but also to lawyers, and practitioners’, said Andrea di Carlo, EUIPO Deputy Executive Director.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) entered into force on 30 May 2019 and business commenced on 1st January 2021 but negotiations on the Intellectual Property Protocol are still ongoing. Experts and scholars have noted how the IP Protocol is expected to facilitate the growth of the MSMEs and would serve as a catalyst for technology transfer in the region.
According to the EUIPO, the issue of intellectual property is becoming increasingly relevant as a cornerstone of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) and the focus on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) derives from the key drive they give to economic growth in both the EU and in Africa. While less than 9% of SMEs in the EU own intellectual property rights (IPR), those SMEs who own at least one patent, registered design or trademark generate on average 68 % higher revenues per employee than the ones which do not. Both the EU and African countries have a common interest in facilitating trade and investment by removing obstacles that hinder their development. The Helpdesk aims to support African IPR policy and its harmonisation and to protect and promote value addition of African products and services, by improving networks and tools and by strengthening capacity building.
The African IP Helpdesk will enhance collaboration between EU SMEs and African countries in trade, as it will support EU SMEs in creating, protecting, commercialising, and enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) across Africa, while also contributing to economic growth in Africa.