The right to intellectual property

The most distinguishing feature between human beings and other animals is that human beings have the ability to innovate. They can come up with unique ideas that no one has ever thought of before. The unique ideas that people create become their intellectual property.

In article 376 of N° 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 the Organic Law instituting the Penal Code of Rwanda, the definition of intellectual property covers a wide range of things. It includes literary work such as novels, artistic works such as songs and art pieces, and scientific works for instance applications and formulae.

Performing artists, phonograms, radio and TV programs, scientific discoveries, designs, all forms of human inventions, trademarks, and commercial names and designs are also considered as intellectual property.

Examples of commercial names are;musician’s stage names, product names and company names. It would be illegal for a person to start a newspaper called The New Times because an existing publication is already using the name. Creating a company with a name similar to that of an already existing company might result in confusion and unfair competition and yet protection from unfair competition is also one of the definitions of intellectual property.

Protection of intellectual property, according to article 376 of the Organic Law Instituting the Penal Code, also disallows discrediting someone’s intellectual property. Additionally, it outlaws misleading the public, causing reputational damage,forgery, and obtaining confidential information without permission.

The crime of using someone’s intellectual property to make money without permission is called piracy. In this regard, article 376 of the Organic Law Instituting the Penal Code says, “Any person who willfully or by gross negligence infringes copyrights or related rights protected by the law, for profit-making purposes and without owner’s right consent, who knowingly sells, offers on sale, is making rent, detains or introduces on the territory of the Republic of Rwanda, the alleged infringing goods for commercial purposes, subsequently uses another person’s trade name, be it in the form of a trade name, mark or collective mark, in the same way as any use of a similar trade name or a similar mark likely to mislead the public shall be deemed to have committed the offence of piracy.”

Articles 377 to 385 of N° 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 prescribe punishments for different acts related infringing on the right to intellectual property.

For example article 377 of the Organic Law Instituting the Penal Code says, “Any person who commits an offence of piracy shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of two (2) years to five (5) years and a fine of two million (2,000,000) to ten million (10,000,000) Rwandan francs.”

Article 386 of N° 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 the Organic Law instituting the Penal Code says that each punishment given as a result of breaking the laws relating to intellectual property may also include the additional penalty of “seizure, forfeiture and destruction of the items in connection with the offence and all materials or instruments used in the commission of the offence.”

Why such serious measures to protect intellectual property? Because intellectual property is unique. It is obtained through creativity. And creativity ought to be rewarded because it is the backbone of progress.