A patent application is a request made to a patent office for the grant of a patent for a particular invention. Ordinarily, this request would be made to a national patent office for grant of a patent within that country. However, regional arrangements exist, whereby a treaty regulates the grant of intellectual property rights, such as patents, for a larger geographical jurisdiction. A regional patent application may therefore have effect in several different countries. Regional arrangements may offer advantages such as lower costs (i.e. of filing one central application instead of several national applications), faster processes etc. The three main regional arrangements which will be discussed fall within Europe and Africa (ARIPO) and (OAPI).
The European Patent Convention (EPC) was signed on 5 October 1973. The multilateral treaty provides for the institution of the European Patent Office (EPO) and provides a legal framework for the granting of European patents via a single patent application, instituted at the EPO. There are currently 38 European member states to the EPC.
With only one filing, a patent is applied for in all member states of the EPC. It is examined centrally by the EPO. Once granted, the European Patent however becomes a bundle of national patents. The European Patents in each of the designated countries must be treated by those countries as equivalent to their national patent, subject to the provisions of the Convention.
The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) was established in 1976 in Lusaka, Zambia through the joint efforts of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The ARIPO Agreement came into force in 1978. ARIPO was initially open to English-speaking countries of Africa, but the membership provisions have since been amended to be open to members of the UN Economic Commission for Africa or the African Union. The current member states are Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Harare Protocol on Patents and Industrial Designs (the Harare Protocol) provides for the filing of a single application to cover one or more member states designated in the application, however, a registration which results from such an application does not constitute a regional registration; its effect is that of a national registration in each designated country. An ARIPO application is subjected to substantive examination. When granted, the patent extends automatically to the designated member countries and is subject to the respective national laws with no validation process necessary.
OAPI, the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle, is a union of 16 predominantly French-speaking countries which was formed when the former Libreville Accord (concluded in 1962 by 12 countries) was revised in Bangui in 1977 and the Bangui Agreement was concluded. The Accords of Libreville and Bangui established common intellectual property laws and a single Intellectual Property Office, situated at Yaoundé, Cameroon, to have effect in all member countries. Member states are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Comoro Islands, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
OAPI is unique in that its member countries were required to ‘renounce’ their national sovereignty in the area of intellectual property, to afford the right holder a single regional title of protection valid in each country, obtained via an OAPI application and registration procedure. Hence designation of specific countries is not required in an OAPI application, i.e. all OAPI applications are in respect of all member countries.