Spotlight on intellectual property

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Rethabile Pitso

BASOTHO have been called upon to obtain intellectual property (IP) rights to protect their creative ideas from being stolen and to foster the development of the economy.

IP refers to creations of the mind such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; symbols, names and images used in commerce.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Law Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights commemorated the World Intellectual Property Day to shine the spotlight on the role that intellectual property rights (patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright) play in encouraging innovation and creativity.

The event was established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2000 to raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life. Lesotho has been a member of WIPO since 1986.

The 26th of April was chosen as the date for World Intellectual Property Day because it coincides with the date on which the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization entered into force in 1970.

During the commemorations, the ministry provided free services to people who made trademark, patent, industrial design and copyright applications.

According to Intellectual Property Counsel, ‘Makhukhumala Kama, many Basotho have not obtained IP rights for their businesses due to financial constraints among other reasons.

“It has come to our notice that many micro, small and medium enterprises do not consider getting IP rights over their business ideas thus giving room for others to misuse or steal them,” she said.

“We have been left to assume that financial constraints are among the obstacles traders encounter in accessing these rights. Many people who start businesses do so because they cannot get jobs. Therefore, it becomes difficult for them to get funds to apply for the rights. As a result, very few Basotho are applying for IP protection.”

Ms Kama said the cost of an application for a trademark in the case of an individual proprietor was M100 while for a company it costs M400.

“In cases where a company has applied for more than one class of IP, each additional class is charged M100 extra. There are also charges for an application that has been successfully published,” she said.

There was a need, said Ms Kama, for Lesotho to strengthen its IP sector to facilitate economic growth.

“Studies have shown that countries such as South Korea experienced an economic upsurge after focusing on IP which boosted their manufacturing sector,” she said.

“In Lesotho we need to develop policies which guide the coordination of the trade sector with small businesses to assist their growth. Our technical capacity as a country to offer patent services for example is still very low.”

Ms Kama also noted that the country’s innovation capacity still left a lot to be desired.

“We cannot continue having fly-by-night businesses which are here today and gone tomorrow. Basotho need to obtain IP rights which would attract investors and other opportunities that come with the recognition of their businesses.”

Meanwhile, budding entrepreneur, ‘Makhiba Mokotlakhiba, who produces the “Shine Mother Shine” range of petroleum products echoed the sentiment, saying obtaining IP rights was important in running a business.

“Many people have still not realised the benefits of obtaining IP rights, but as a trader, I have realized that obtaining a trademark for my brand has helped to market it,” she said.

“It has also helped attract investment opportunities beyond Lesotho where I am now exporting my products. A trademark also protects one in case of legal disputes so business people have to seriously consider IP immediately after they register their businesses.”

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