Do you know your African regional patenting authorities? Part 2: OAPI

This post is a continuation of my investigation into the African regional patenting authorities – see Part 1 of the series for my post on the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, ARIPO.   This time, with the aid of excellent Afro-IP blog, which covers intellectual property issues in Africa, and from the oft-referenced Information Sources in Patents (3rd edition, 2012) by Stephen Adams, I’m delving into the regional African patenting authority OAPI, and this mysterious collection has left me with many unanswered questions!  Read on for my investigation of OAPI coverage in both free and paid search tools.

OAPI

OAPI stands for the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle, with number prefix OA. This organization of French-speaking countries has its beginnings in 1962. It is based in Yaoundé, the Cameroon, and recently admitted its 17th member country, Comoros, in April 2013.   This office extends protection to patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and a number of other types of intellectual property (WIPO, http://www.wipo.int/africa/en/partners_org/partners/oapi_bg.html)

Member countries are Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

It’s especially important for us to get a handle on OAPI publication access because of the unusual nature of OAPI’s charter – and here I cite directly from Adams (2012).  Rather than acting as a regional authority which expedites entry into the national phase, OAPI essentially replaces the national patenting systems altogether. “A single patent is granted by OAPI, carrying the ‘OA’ code prefix,  which has effect in all the member states, and (most significantly) the Organisation uses a centralised court structure which enables a single case to establish validity or order revocation for all territories.”  It’s as though, for all intents and purposes, the 17 member states merge into a single territory when it comes to intellectual property rights.  Put another way, getting an OAPI patent gives you protection in 17 countries for the price of 1.

Unfortunately, my investigation into OAPI coverage has left me with more questions than answers.  It’s noted in many places that the OAPI website does not provide any access to published OAPI patent documents.  Not only is the database unavailable (under construction), but there are no official gazettes online.  I’d really like to know more about why this is, since the office is clearly active.  As I understand it (at least in the US) a fundamental purpose of a patenting system is a limited monopoly grant in exchange for a public technology disclosure – so where is the disclosure aspect here?

This missing search functionality would be okay if OAPI was instead delivering detailed information to the EPO for inclusion into the free global Espacenet database, or even to WIPO’s Patentscope.   I found that OAPI data is indeed searchable in Espacenet, with over 13,400 available records – but coverage only extends through 2007!  Another mystery.  What happened to the relationship between OAPI and the EPO?

It’s also worth noting that this patenting authority is also NOT available in the Derwent World Patents Index (DWPI).  Does the Thomson Reuters IP division lack the economic incentive to pursue adding this collection, or is it simply impossible to get access to this electronic data?

The metadata that *is* available in Espacenet is, like the AP records, somewhat sparse.  Titles are searchable, but abstracts are generally not included in the electronic records.  Many of the documents are in French, although some (typically with other family members) are in English.  The records generally only contain 1-3 International Patent Classification (IPC) codes per document.  As with the AP documents, the OA documents (even without family members) seem to have been updated with the new Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) codes.  And on the plus side, it does seem that original document PDF copies are available for most records.

OAPI Document on Espacenet

An original OAPI document on Espacenet.

Commercial search systems PatBase and Orbit also showed over 13,000 family records for OA documents, which corresponds with Espacenet numbers.

Comparison of OAPI to the African Regional Patenting Authority ARIPO

As you remember from Part 1 of this post series on ARIPO (AP), AP documents number only around 6,500 at present in most search systems, whereas the OA documents number around 13,400.  The major difference in the number of ARIPO and OAPI records appears at a glance to be supported by the WIPO IP Statistics Data Center tool, although I hesitate to draw any serious conclusions because quite a bit of data seems to be missing from the ARIPO statistics, such that no direct comparisons can reasonably be made.   Data on the overall number of patent filings per year for ARIPO covers 1994-2001, and the number of total applications for ARIPO averaged around 150 per year over that time period, whereas OAPI applications averaged closer to 300 per year over the same time period.

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This post was contributed by Landon IP Librarian Kristin Whitman. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

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