On the 14th of May 2021, the Uganda Registration and Services Bureau (URSB) which houses the Uganda Government Intellectual Property (I.P) Directorate, marked a milestone through the launch of an online Trademark journal. This is a very significant step in the registration of IP rights in the country and here is why:
According to statistics from the 2020 URSB Annual report, an average of 70% of trademark applications made through URSB are by foreign applicants. Between 2018 and 2019, for instance, foreign trademark applications were 1,827 while 1,723 of these were successfully registered. This left only 104 unsuccessful foreign based trademark applications in the financial year 2018/19. These numbers had a slight decrease between 2019 and 2020, mainly due to the global lockdown of the economy caused by the COVID 19 outbreak. In the financial year 2019/20, URSB registered 1,623 trademarks out of 1,557 applications. The fact that the registration numbers exceeded the number of applications, was mainly attributed to the spill-over of pending applications from the previous year. Nonetheless, these numbers, as already pointed out, exceed the number of local based trademark applications. Between 2018 and 2019, URSB registered 1,204 local trademarks out of 1,613 applications. This marked a shortfall of 409 unsuccessful trademark applications. In the financial year 2019/20, only 1,039 trademarks were registered out of 1,267 applications, leaving a shortfall of 228 unsuccessful applications.
The URSB statistics for new companies and business names that were registered over the past four years is also indicative as to why businesses are deterred from registering their IP, particularly trademarks. In financial year 2018/19, there were 73,406 companies and business names registered while in FY 2019/20, there were 60,336. Such fairly large numbers of businesses registered should be mirrored by equally large trademark registrations within the same period of time but it is quite unfortunate that most businesses do not follow up business registration with trademark registration.
The story has not been that different with copyright applications. Although there is no formality required in obtaining copyright protection, registration of one’s copyright is essential for evidential purposes under the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act. However, over the past four years, there have been more applications for copyright registration than those that have successfully gone through the application process and been granted certificates. In the financial year 2018/19, for instance, there were 128 copyright applications but only 74 registrations, while in the financial year 2019/20, there were 138 copyright applications and only a paltry 51 registrations.
According to the Registrar General of URSB, Ms. Mercy Kainobwisho, the key reason for the major differences in applications and successful registrations for various Intellectual Property rights, is that most applicants – especially local ones – could not afford the hefty publication or advertisement fees payable to the Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC). As it stands, the different application fees paid to URSB for registration of trademarks, copyrights and other Intellectual Property Rights are quite affordable. However, when it comes to paying for advertising the application in the Uganda Gazette by the UPPC, most applicants cannot afford the costs which are above three hundred thousand Uganda Shillings. Sadly, it is on this basis that the application process for many IP rights stops at this stage.
So, how does all this relate to the newly launched URSB online journal? The online journal, which is provided for under the Trademarks (Amendment) Regulations of 2021, stipulates for the publication of marks in “any other media as the registrar may direct”. It thus gives trademark applicants the option of choosing between publishing in the traditional Uganda Gazette which is run by UPPC or any other media as the registrar may direct, with the instant case being the URSB Journal. As opposed to the UPPC publication fees which have been deterring many would-be trademark owners from obtaining such protection, the fees chargeable under the online journal are UgShs 100,000 (One Hundred thousand Uganda Shillings) for local applications or USD 80 (Eighty United States Dollars) for foreign-based applications.
All stakeholders in the protection of IP rights are quite optimistic that this development in the registration of trademarks in Uganda is going to lead to an increase in the number of trademarks registered in the country. This is because of the affordability of publication fees, which will make it easier for new companies and businesses to also look into obtaining trademark registration for their businesses. It also creates optimism for those seeking copyright registration to the effect that their concerns over unaffordable publications costs will soon be sorted out by URSB. As for the new Registrar General, Ms. Mercy Kainobwisho, this is definitely a great way to mark her first 100 days at the helm of URSB.
The author is an I.P expert and Partner at Byenkya, Kihika & Co. Advocates.