Patent developments between Europe and North Africa

What has changed? 

In recent years, there have been developments to increase the collaborative efforts between Europe and Africa through the signing of various intellectual property agreements.  In North Africa, agreements have been entered into by the European Patent Office (EPO) with Tunisia and Morocco that allow for the validation of European patents to extend to these two countries.

Map showing Morocco and Tunisia

The first such African agreement between the EPO and the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (OMPIC) was signed in December 2010, and this has subsequently been followed by the EPO’s co-operation agreement with the Tunisian National Standardization and Industrial Property Institute (INNORPI), which was signed in Munich on 3 July 2014.  The amendments required to Moroccan patent law to allow validation of European grants is anticipated to be implemented by the end of 2014.  The Moroccan and Tunisian agreements with the EPO will enter into force following their ratification. 

What does this mean for patents?

These agreements allow European patents validated in Morocco and Tunisia to have the same legal effect as Moroccan and Tunisian national patents.  The validation agreements will allow users of the European Patent Convention (EPC) to validate their EPO granted patents in Morocco and Tunisia, despite neither of these two countries being EPC contracting states.  Morocco and Tunisia will fall under the title of ‘Extension States’, similar to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, whereby European patents are recognised upon request and by payment of relevant fees.  

Morocco and Tunisia are the first countries in Africa to allow the validation of European patents in addition to their own national patents.  It is unclear as to why these two countries chose to partner with the EPO and not join one of the African Regional Organisations; the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) or the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI), which have been in existence for some time (ARIPO Harare Protocol since 1982 and OAPI Bangui Agreement since 1977). 

The signing of the validation agreements is expected to result in a vast increase in the amount of patent filings; upon signing the validation agreement with Tunisia, EPO President Benoît Battistelli commented:

"This is a strategic breakthrough for the patent system in Tunisia. The agreement will simplify access to patent protection in Tunisia for European patent applicants and proprietors.  Ultimately it will help to strengthen innovation in the country and open up new industrial and commercial prospects for foreign investors."

What work still needs to be done? 

There still needs to be clarity on what documents will be required for validation in Morocco and Tunisia, the costs thereof, and whether or not these countries will implement the London Agreement.  Before ratification of this validation option, there may need to be some revision of the national patent laws in Morocco and Tunisia to ensure harmonisation between their patent legislation and the patent legislation of the EPC. 

Patent protection can currently only be obtained in Morocco and Tunisia through the filing of national patent applications either directly or through the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT).  Patent protection in Morocco extends to Tangier and Western Sahara.    

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