Regional experts in Intellectual Property (IP) law called for its harmonisation as a way of curtailing piracy and counterfeiting that hinders economic development of member states.
The experts, drawn from member states of the East African Community, said that infringing on IP will impede future innovation.
The specialists believe that unless regional laws are synchronised, the East African Common Market will not be effectively achieved as proposed.
“There is need to harmonise the legal regime that deals with intellectual property rights in the region, for better trade and realisation of a common market within member states,” Justice Hatari Waweru, from the Kenya High Court, said in an interview.
“Developed countries achieved development because of protecting their ideas; unless we adopt the same, we shall remain stagnate”.
Justice Waweru pointed out that for proper enforcement of IP laws at the regional level, there was still a need to sensitise all stakeholders to understand the significance of implementing the laws.
“An ordinary person on the street might not see the importance of IP rights. He or she will not care whether he has bought counterfeit products, and because of that, our people will be exposed to substandard products that will harm their lives,” he added.
“Therefore we need also to increase awareness among the public, sensitise our judges and prosecutors on the modern way of handling IPR laws and train our police and customs officers at the borders how to identify counterfeit products”.
The 2010 Global study indicates that in East and Southern Africa, software piracy is higher compared to other parts of the world.
In the just-concluded conference on Intellectual Property in Kigali, international and regional participants observed that poverty is the major factor motivating encroachment on IP rights.
Seth Kwizera, a service industry development expert, acknowledged that lack of harmonised laws on intellectual property will not only hinder regional countries but also deter the western investors who would have participated in the development of EAC.
“If we want to open our region to world, we need to harmonise all the laws that govern intellectual property,” he said.
According to the Rwandan IP law, any person who steals or fraudulently uses a formula of invention in any industrial activity, is liable to a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of five to ten times the value of profits attributable to the infringement.