Patent developments between Europe and North Africa - Validation of European patents imminent in Morocco and Tunisia
It is interesting to note that collaboration between Europe and Africa has been increasing in recent years including the signing of various agreements relating to Intellectual Property. In North Africa, the European Patent Office (EPO) has entered into agreements with Morocco and Tunisia allowing the validation of European patents to extend to these countries. The first such African agreement between the EPO and the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (OMPIC) took place in December 2010, and this has subsequently been followed by the EPO’s recent agreement with the Tunisian National Standardization and Industrial Property Institute (INNORPI), which took place on 3 July 2014.
In terms of these agreements, European patents validated in these countries will have the same legal effect as Moroccan and Tunisian national patents, and will be subject to Moroccan and Tunisian patent legislation. In addition to the current European member states, the validation agreements will enable users of the European Patent Convention (EPC) to validate their EPO granted patents in Morocco and Tunisia even though neither Morocco nor Tunisia is an EPC contracting state. Morocco and Tunisia will become so-called Extension States in terms of the EPC (States recognising European patents upon request). The Moroccan and Tunisian agreements will enter into force and effect following their ratification.
Morocco and Tunisia are the first countries in Africa to provide for validation of European patents in addition to national patent filings. This is an interesting development and one wonders why Morocco and Tunisia chose to partner with the European Patent Office and not join one of the African Regional Organisations (ARIPO or OAPI) which operate effectively and have been in existence for some time (ARIPO Harare Protocol since 1982 and OAPI Bangui Agreement since 1977). Nevertheless, it is expected that the signing of these validation agreements will result in a marked increase in patent filings. Upon signing the validation agreement with Tunisia, EPO President Benoît Battistelli commented:
"This is a strategic breakthrough for the patent system in Tunisia. The agreement will simplify access to patent protection in Tunisia for European patent applicants and proprietors. Ultimately it will help to strengthen innovation in the country and open up new industrial and commercial prospects for foreign investors."
It will be interesting to see how many users of the European Patent Convention will take advantage of this validation route for obtaining patent protection in Morocco and Tunisia. Before this validation option is ratified, the national Patent laws in Morocco and Tunisia may need to be revised to ensure that the patent legislation is compliant and harmonised with the EPC.
It is not as yet clear what documents will be required for validation and the costs thereof and whether or not Morocco and Tunisia will implement the London Agreement. Patent protection in Morocco and Tunisia is currently available through the filing of national patent applications and PCT national phase applications.
Patent protection in Morocco extends to Tangier and Western Sahara.
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