Do you know your African regional patenting authorities? Part 1: ARIPO

I was surprised to find that we have never yet tackled the fascinating subject of African regional patenting authorities on the Intellogist blog.   This is probably because I knew that any post I put together on the subject would have to crib heavily from the excellent Afro-IP blog, which covers intellectual property issues in Africa, and from authorities such as the oft-referenced Information Sources in Patents (3rd ed., 2012) by Stephen Adams.  So to avoid blatant plagiarism, in true Intellogist fashion let’s turn this post from book report into search tool review!  Read on to learn about my fruitful investigation of the African regional authority ARIPO, in both free and paid patent search tools.


The two African regional patenting authorities are divided by language – ARIPO is the English-speaking organization, and the other African regional authority, OAPI, is the French.  ARIPO stands for the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, and is represented by the number prefix code AP.  The organization was founded in 1979. It is based in Harare, Zimbabwe, and admitted its 18th member state, Rwanda, in 2010.  The office now grants intellectual property rights through patents, utility models, marks, and industrial designs (WIPO,  The office performs substantive examination on behalf of its member states, and applicants can designate only the specific member states for which they are seeking protection; after examination, each member state has the right to declare that the patent will not enter into force for that country (Adams, 2012).

Member countries are Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

As for free coverage, there is no national patent search site.  There are about 2,600 AP records present in Espacenet, and thankfully coverage extends through 2013 and seems to lag by only a few months.   As far as I can tell, Espacenet carries only A kind codes, and does not include D0 (pre-publication) registration numbers, or U kind codes for utility models.  As to whether this collection is comprehensive, the latest A document is AP2636, suggesting that if ARIPO has always used the same consecutive patent numbering scheme, this is pretty much the full collection.

The Espacenet records for AP documents are serviceable but light on detail.  Titles are searchable, but abstracts are generally not included in the electronic records (sometimes a one-sentence description appears).  The records generally only contain 1-3 International Patent Classification (IPC) codes per document.  To my surprise, some of the AP documents, even those without family members, seem to have been updated with the new Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) codes, perhaps suggesting that someone (I assume the EPO) had been categorizing these documents with the legacy European classification system (ECLA).   And on the plus side, it does seem that original document PDF copies are available for most records.  This makes sense, as the EPO indicates in its coverage documentation that the delivery media for AP documents is paper.

WIPO’s Patentscope AP collection stops at 2008, so they are missing a chunk of the most recent documents.

One interesting feature of the ARIPO patenting system is that it apparently publishes D0 registration numbers for patent applications that have not yet published.  Unlike Espacenet, commercial systems PatBase and Orbit both showed around 6,400-6,500 patent families with an AP member, and these sets were composed of about 2,500 AP A documents and about 4,000 D0 pre-publication/unpublished application numbers.  The D0 records are surprisingly informative, and can sometimes contain a title, assignee, inventor, and even IPC codes.

Orbit ARIPO Record

An Orbit patent family with one member – an ARIPO unpublished application with kind code D0. The record title and 1 IPC code are available. Note that this ARIPO application stems from a JP priority number, but there is not yet a JP published family member.

The Derwent World Patents Index (DWPI) does not index ARIPO documents, and it does not have much of a focus on the African continent at present.  This may change, as many of the world’s fastest growing economies of the past decade are in Africa, including ARIPO members Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia (“Growth and Other Good Things,” The Economist, May 1st, 2013

Have you had experience searching the ARIPO patent corpus?  Let me know how it went in the comments!


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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