The transformation of Rwanda’s Intellectual Property landscape

Rwanda has, in recent months, made great strides towards the development of a modern legal and institutional framework for intellectual property (IP) and its use in supporting national development goals. Rwanda has had some form of legal framework for IP since colonial times.
L-R : Rwanda’s poverty reduction strategy has clearly identified science, technology and innovation as key national development goals ; Cultural creativity is one way of economically empowering Rwandans.
L-R : Rwanda’s poverty reduction strategy has clearly identified science, technology and innovation as key national development goals ; Cultural creativity is one way of economically empowering Rwandans.

Rwanda has, in recent months, made great strides towards the development of a modern legal and institutional framework for intellectual property (IP) and its use in supporting national development goals.

Rwanda has had some form of legal framework for IP since colonial times. Following independence in 1962, patents, trademarks and industrial designs were governed by the Law of 25 February 1963; copyright by the Law of 15 November 1983; and unfair competition by various unfair competition regulations dating from the colonial era.

While the policy and legal environment has evolved and incremental changes have been introduced over the years, Rwanda’s drive to advance its current national development goals highlighted the need to overhaul the country’s IP system.

The enactment of a swathe of new laws in 2009 has effectively transformed Rwanda’s IP landscape, replacing outdated laws and regulations with new legislation that supports Rwanda’s aspirations in attracting foreign direct investment, establishing a viable technological base and fulfilling obligations under international treaties.

A wired future

Rwanda’s poverty reduction strategy has clearly identified science, technology and innovation as key national development goals.

The government has invested a great deal in hard and soft information technology (IT) infrastructure, recognizing that “information is the lifeblood of development, the lifeblood of technology, of products and services, of Government, and of business. Information is value. It is therefore increasingly important that information is codified and that its value is recognized. Intellectual property defines the limits under which information in the form of creations and innovations can be owned and how it can be transferred.”

Science and technology are given priority when selecting candidates for government scholarships at home and abroad. Education and information and communication technologies (ICT) are top priorities in advancing Rwanda’s national development strategy.

This is reflected in Rwanda’s IP policy which states that “for a low-income country such as Rwanda, the extent of growth in the medium and long term will be determined by how our people access and utilize information, how technologies from abroad that suit the needs of our economy are accessed and how we innovate and create value within Rwanda.

It is therefore vital that Rwanda has a functioning intellectual property system, to allow people to realize the full value of their creations, and to allow them to access the creations of others.”

Reforming the IP landscape

In recent times, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders have shown increased interest in Rwanda’s ongoing national IP reforms and, in particular, how they will translate into tangible benefits for the community at large.

There is growing recognition that IP is an important tool for Rwanda’s development. Slowly but surely, IP is increasingly seen as a means to an end, and Rwandans are trying to fathom how best to use, what is for them, a relatively new tool.

Rwanda has recently embarked on a major overhaul of its legal, regulatory and institutional framework to create a more favorable operating environment for business. A number of new, business-friendly laws were passed in 2009, and a few more are on the table in 2010.

These include the new Companies Act, the Insolvency Law, the Secured Transaction Law, the Electronic Transactions Law and Law 31/2009 on Intellectual Property which was published in December 2009. Parliament also approved Rwanda’s future accession to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks and the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (1999 Act) last year (Official Gazette 43 of 26 October 2009).

The top global reformer

The enactment of these laws has been a major factor in contributing to Rwanda’s ranking as the top global reformer by the World Bank in its ‘Doing Business 2010 Report’, making it the first sub-Saharan African country to be so named. Rwanda is steadily positioning itself as a safe haven for foreign direct investments in the sub-region and the continent.

The new IP Law brings together substantive legislation on patents, copyright, trademarks, geographical indications (GIs), industrial designs, utility models and unfair competition. National legislation on traditional knowledge and genetic resources is currently under consideration with the technical support of WIPO and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), which also provided legislative advice in drafting the new IP Law.

A WIPO Member State since February 1984, Rwanda is soon to join ARIPO and is keen to tap into the substantive expertise of these two organizations to fast-track its use of IP and to boost its economic performance.

Mapping the future

At the same time as the new IP law was being enacted, Rwanda began drafting an IP policy and strategy to fully integrate IP into its national development agenda. Developed with the support of WIPO and UNCTAD and approved by the Cabinet in March 2010, this comprehensive policy serves as a guide for Rwanda’s IP development efforts.

It brings together all stakeholders from both the public and private sectors and emphasizes the important role of research institutions.

The policy’s aim is to create “an environment in which the Rwandan sectors of business, Government and culture create ideas and innovations that are protected in a way that ensures the greater prosperity of the Rwandan people, while making optimal use of international technologies to promote growth and productivity for the whole Rwandan nation.”

Under the new IP Institutional Framework, MINICOM is responsible for the policy framework, supervision of the implementation of IP policy and the body in charge of IP registrations. The Ministry of Culture is responsible for protecting the moral rights of creators, promoting and providing services to artists and performers as well as promoting and protecting Rwanda’s national culture and heritage.

The newly-created office of the Registrar General under the Rwanda Development Board is responsible for granting industrial property titles and for the registration of IPRs and their publication. It also provides technical information services on patents and utility models and on other technical matters to facilitate evaluation, selection, acquisition and assimilation of technologies by industry and research institutions.

IP registration is now also offered online with a view to simplifying procedures and encouraging broader use of the system.

An optimistic future for artists

While Rwanda is home to many talented musicians, poets and sculptors, the country’s artists have often been neglected and lack financial independence. There has been no meaningful effort to support or coordinate services to the artistic community, largely because of the absence of an adequate legal framework, which has made it difficult to take action. As a consequence, for many years Rwandan artists have played a minimal role in the country’s economic development.

Recognizing the need to empower the artistic community, the government ensured that the IP Law of 2009 contained provisions that supported the development of the creative sector in Rwanda.

Article 253 of that Law provides for the creation of one or more collective management societies. Rwanda’s artists can therefore look to the future with optimism now that a framework is in place to help them earn a living from their art and to contribute to the country’s economic and cultural dynamism.

Sharing a common vision, the government and the artistic community are working together to turn this opportunity into tangible economic benefits.

MINICOM found enthusiastic partners in the Chamber of Crafts, Artists and Artisans of the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (RPSF) who were eager to take advantage of these emerging opportunities. On the occasion of World IP Day 2010, MINICOM organized, over three days, a series of events to build public awareness of the new IP legislation. These proceedings were opened by the guest of honor, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the Minister for Trade and Industry.

A separate two-day training session designed to engender the broad support of the artistic community highlighted the advantages of the new IP law, and paid special attention to the opportunities to be derived from the establishment of collective management societies under article 253. With WIPO’s support, Rwanda benefited from the expertise of an international specialist on collective management organizations (CMOs) who shared his knowledge and highlighted best practices.

The workshops were held alongside an exhibition that showcased the beauty and rich diversity of Rwandan art.

A new collective management society

The Rwanda Society of Authors (RSAU) was legally established and officially registered with the Rwanda Development Board in May 2010. Rwanda’s first collective management society, RSAU comprises the Association of Musicians (INGOMA Music Association), the Association of Cinema Artists (IRIZA CARD), the Association of Writers (LA PLUME D’OR) and ISOKO Arts Rwanda. RSAU met for the first time in June 2010 at MINICOM and attracted 215 members (150 musicians, 45 writers and 20 film directors).

While RSAU is to be run entirely as a private entity, it benefits from the official commitment and support of the government.

Future challenges

In spite of substantial advances in developing Rwanda’s IP institutions, the country still faces significant challenges in successfully implementing its IP policy and vision.

Raising awareness about the importance of innovation and technology transfer and the role of IP in achieving Vision 2020 are still major tasks for MINICOM.

In this context, Rwanda continues to seek partnerships to fill the gaps identified in its IP needs assessment undertaken in consultation with its stakeholders. A key challenge is to inform partner institutions - such as the police, customs officials and the judiciary - about basic IP concepts and the IP Law. While these actors have many other responsibilities, time constraints as well as insufficient resources, they play a key role in promoting greater respect for IP rights.

Beyond the quick wins, such as those brought about by strengthening the national copyright framework, Rwanda intends to work with its development partners to further promote a culture of innovation and creativity, to foster technology transfer and to improve its national human resource expertise in the administration and enforcement of IP rights. One thing is clear - IP will play a key role in Rwanda’s future.

The author is the Director General at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM), in charge of the Investment Climate and Intellectual Property.


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