Book Review

February 2009

Publisher: L'Harmattan.  ISBN: 978-2-296-06284-9. Price: 34 Euros.
Publisher: L'Harmattan. ISBN: 978-2-296-06284-9. Price: 34 Euros.

Les enjeux de la protection des dessins et modèles industriels dans le développement en Afrique

By Stéphanie Ngo Mbem

Reviewed by Francois Curchod*

The publication of a book on industrial designs occurs less frequently than on any other area of intellectual property. The publication of a book on African law is even less frequent, so a publication that discusses both subjects, such as this one by Stéphanie Ngo Mbem, is to be welcomed.

Despite the fascinating complexities of industrial design law, arising from its position on the border between industrial property and copyright, its status as the most neglected area of intellectual property is well known. The overriding significance that this area of law presents for the development of African countries – which generate a substantial number of aesthetic creations, but few patentable inventions – is, however, less well known. Despite beliefs, sometimes discussed ad nauseam, concerning the effect patents have on development in these countries in terms of technology transfer, it is too often forgotten that the patent system barely helps to stimulate local innovative activity in Africa, at least as things stand at present. Drawing these facts to our attention is not the least of this book’s merits. Indeed, although this timely work concentrates on the 16 sub-Saharan African countries that are members of the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), many of the points it elaborates are valid for the entire African continent, if not the developing world in general.

Anyone looking for general information on the OAPI system will find the first part of this book very useful. It also presents very interesting legal analyses of the development of design protection in this regional intellectual property system, as well as of its practical application. The author analyzes, in particular, possible reasons for the low level of usage of the OAPI registration system, such as lack of knowledge about the existence of design protection and lack of funds for paying filing fees.

Having proposed a diagnosis of OAPI design law and its application, the author goes on to suggest both long and short term remedies in the second part of the book. The final parts of the work focus on the role of both international law and OAPI member states. At the international level, the author suggests that, in addition to the need for greater harmonization of design legislation, special and differential treatment should be given to developing and, in particular, African countries, especially in the areas of technical assistance and access to markets for products that incorporate industrial designs. OAPI member states should be directly involved through awareness-raising activities and promotion of designers’ achievements as well as through initiatives offering assistance to sectors interested in exploiting designs; finally, member states should make their legal systems more reliable and reinforce their methods of fighting counterfeiting.

The book’s general conclusion asks whether the OAPI design system facilitates development in OAPI member states. The response is balanced, insofar as the evolution of legislative texts shows that concerns about development are increasingly present but that much remains to be done in this area. Stéphanie Ngo Mbem’s many proposals will be valuable for the next revision of OAPI legislative texts. Hopefully, they will be fully considered as part of this revision, which would mean that this book would not remain theoretical but could have a real impact on the evolution of design law within OAPI and could help to strengthen the contribution that this area of law can and should make to the economic and social development of the countries in question.

*Mr. Curchod is a former Deputy Director General of WIPO and a former associate professor at the Robert Schuman University, which integrated the University of Strasbourg on January 1, 2009.

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.