Africa: What you need to know about OAPI and ARIPO

Date: 2013-07-25

For some, Africa is a continent of poverty and conflict, shaped by its colonial past and dictatorships or unrest that followed. Others are slowly beginning to realise that the concept of an African Renaissance, popularised by South African ex-president, Thabo Mbeki, may become a reality in time.

In terms of African economies, it is interesting to note that a number of African countries have had continued economic growth above 5% over the last couple of years, ie even during the Global Financial Crisis1.  In fact, the continent’s average growth in GDP is estimated to be about 4.8% in 2013 and projected to be 5.3% in 20142.  

According to the AEO, the total external financial flows to Africa reached a historic high of an estimated US$ 186.3 billion in 20123.  It is well-known that China is heavily investing in Africa, building railroads all over the continent to access commodities.  Some sources say that Malaysia is an even bigger direct investor through firms such as Petronas and Sime Darby.  Other investing countries are France, the US, Britain, India and South Africa, to name but a few.  The move of US giant Walmart in 2011 to buy Massmart , the third largest distributor of consumer goods in Africa, made it clear that the world’s eyes are turning to Africa as a market, not only for oil, mining, agriculture, telecommunications and the like, but also as a consumer market.

Africa’s growth and the investment focus on Africa should make the continent a region to consider in terms of intellectual property. In this regard it is important to note that Africa has two regional patent systems, OAPI (Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle or African Intellectual Property Organization) and ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization).  Even though the larger African economies of South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt do not form part of the regional systems, the OAPI and ARIPO system provide a relatively cheap, easy and effective way of extending patent protection to a total of 35 African countries with a combined nominal GDP of US$ 420 billion.  

A comparison between the two regional patent systems is provided below.







Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Union of the Comoros and Togo – 17 members


Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – 18 members

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Patent Office

Harare, Zimbabwe

No coexistence of national IP legislation in member states, with OAPI thus serving as national office for each country.
An OAPI application automatically extends to all member states and no designation of states is necessary.

Type of protection

Member states have retained their national IP legislation and applications may still be filed through national patent offices.
At filing of an ARIPO application, states of interest should be designated.
Member states should ratify relevant treaties.


30 months

National phase deadline

31 months

Yes, extension of 3 months available

Power of attorney necessary?

Yes, extension of 2 months available

English or French
(day of filing)

Filing language

(day of filing)


After grant


On grant (ie publication of acceptance)

No request to be filed

Examination request

No request to be filed

Formal examination relating to patentable subject matter, fair basis of claims, unity and formality requirements

Grounds of examination

Formal and substantive examination.  Substantive examination either by ARIPO, arranged by ARIPO or based on search reports from other jurisdictions

Absolute, but certain exceptions eg, official or officially recognised international exhibition exception

Novelty standard

Absolute, but official or officially recognised international exhibition exception


Grace period


Not allowable
Products for such methods may however be patentable

Methods of medical treatment

Dependent on national laws of member countries, but may be raised as objection by ARIPO

Not allowable

Computer programs

Dependent on national laws, mostly not allowable as such

Yes – (exceptionally high) fees payable at time of filing for claims beyond 10

Excess claims

Yes – fees payable for claims beyond 10 at time of grant


Prior art disclosure obligation


Yes, within 6 months of receipt of lack of unity notification

Divisional filing deadlines



Post-grant amendments

Dependent on national laws




National patent office may advise ARIPO within 6 months that patent will have no national effect


Proceedings to be brought in country where infringement occurs


Dependent on the national law of the country where infringement occurs



Signatory to Budapest Treaty



Extension of term for pharmaceuticals


Annually, from first anniversary of filing date


Annually, from first anniversary of filing date



  2., Chapter 1, Economic outlook

  3., Chapter 2, Foreign investment, aid, remittances and tax revenue in Africa