Legal framework of the Intellectual Property system of Uganda
A. General information
1. Uganda’s legal system traces its origins to colonial times under British rule. Prior to Uganda’s independence in 1962, the IP laws of Britain were already being applied to Uganda (eg., Trademark Act of 1953) although the bulk of its current IP laws were enacted, post-independence, by Uganda’s Parliament.
2. Uganda’s Constitution was adopted in 1995, its fourth since independence in 1962. It does not contain any provision that specifically recognizes and guarantees protection to, IP rights. The provision that comes closest is Article 26 of the Constitution, which prohibits deprivation of private property. It reads in part: “No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in or right over property of any description […].” The language is broad and general and provides the basis for Uganda’s legislation on IP rights and their regulation.
Procedure for drafting of bills
3. Uganda has a well-considered procedure for bill drafting that is supported by a well-coordinated inter-agency collaboration. The First Parliamentary Counsel (“FPC”) of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (“MOJ”) is mandated to draft all bills/laws of Uganda on any subject matter. It has three main departments responsible for: (i) principal legislation, (ii) subsidiary legislation, ie., rules and regulations, and (iii) local governments. The FPC has been engaged in the so-called Commercial Law Reform Project since 1996 under which some 40 bills are being considered as necessary to overhaul its outdated commercial laws that pose administrative difficulties detrimental to the development of a vibrant private sector. Of these 40 bills, 18 are identified as urgent and includes all IP-related proposed legislation.
4. Another governmental agency, the Uganda Law Reform Commission (“ULRC”), was set up in 1990, by law, and became a constitutional body under the 1995 Constitution. Its main functions concern law reform and law revision. As part of law reform, it proposes laws in areas not yet covered by legislation or amendments to existing legislation, either on its own initiative, upon instructions of the Uganda Attorney-General (who heads the MOJ) or in response to public pressure. Law revision, on the other hand, means cleaning up of the statute books so that repealed laws are deleted and obsolete and unnecessary laws are repealed. In proposing new legislation, ULRC conducts in-depth cross-sectoral studies and undertakes consultations with various stakeholders. Where necessary, it performs field or grassroots consultations; but in the case of IP-related subjects, these are generally deemed to be quite technical and do not generate a lot of interest from the general public. At the end of this preparatory phase, which could take months or a few years, a study report is produced, which goes to the line Ministry that will implement any eventual legislation on the subject matter and to the MOJ, which has jurisdiction over the preparation of all bills, before being presented to the entire Cabinet for approval. Once approved by the Cabinet, the bill goes to Parliament. The ULRC works closely with the line Ministries and the FPC of the MOJ to provide support during discussions of the bill in the Cabinet and hearings in Parliament. It prepares the explanatory note for any proposed legislation which has been referred to it for study.
5. In Parliament, a number of its internal offices are involved in shepherding bills through the requisite formal three readings, hearings and consultations with the concerned Ministries and relevant stakeholders. After the third reading when the bill is passed, it then becomes and Act of Parliament, but still necessitates the assent of the President (who does not exercise veto powers over legislation). The Legal and Legislative Services of Parliament is one such office and among others, it ensures that the final draft of the legislation reflects all amendments that may have been made by the Members of Parliament during its deliberation in plenary.
B. Uganda IP laws
6. Currently, Uganda has the following principal IP laws:
(i) Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act (2006)
(ii) Patents Act (1964)
(iii) Trademarks Act (1953)
(iv) United Kingdom Designs (Protection) Act (1937)
7. In addition, the Penal Code contains provisions on trademarks and makes the counterfeiting of trademarks a misdemeanor.
8. Rules and regulations for the implementation of these laws are in place; for the recently enacted Copyright law, however, the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations is nearly completed.
9. Except for the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act which was passed in 2006, the rest of Uganda’s current IP laws are set to be repealed and augmented by several pending bills. These are:
(i) Trademarks Bill (2008) – now before the Parliament. The Trademarks Act (1953) provides for the registration of trade marks in Uganda. However, a number of proposals have been made to enable the Act to promote trade and investment and comply with the international standard commitments, which are included in the present bill. Source: Study Report of the ULRC
(ii) Industrial Property Bill (to repeal and replace the Patents Act) – it has been approved by the Cabinet and once published in the Gazette, it will then go to Parliament
(iii) Geographical Indications Bill (2008) – now before the Parliament
(iv) Trade Secrets Bill (2007) – this was passed by Parliament in October 2008 and now awaiting assent by the President
(v) Traditional Medicine Practice Bill (2004) – still with the line Ministry, the Ministry of Health
(vi) Plant Variety Protection Bill (2002)
(vii) Counterfeit Bill (2008)
(viii) The World Trade Organisation Agreement (Implementation) Bill (2004)
Date: July 2009
Source: Uganda Registration Services Bureau, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs