Tunisia: patents in Africa - at a glance
As Africa’s economic significance grows, so does the need for patent protection in the continent. Africa is sometimes seen as being challenging, partly because of the co-existence of national and regional registration systems. This is the next in our series of country-specific updates. Here we focus on Tunisia.
Tunisia is a democratic state with a population of 12 million. The country has a GDP of US$42 billion and it has managed 5% average growth over the past decade. Tunisia is a member of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area and it has an Association Agreement with the EU, the country’s largest trading partner. The Tunisian economy comprises, inter alia, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, petroleum and tourism.
The patent legislation is Law no. 2000-84 on Patents. Tunisia is a member of the Paris Convention, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the Patent Convention Treaty (PCT).
Inventors, joint inventors and successors in title can file patent applications. Inventions made by employees in the course of their employment belong to the employer, although the employee may be entitled to equitable remuneration if the invention has significant economic value.
Tunisia has a first-to-file system. In the case of an invention that has been ‘stolen’, however, the true owner can reclaim it in court proceedings.
There is provision for Patents of Invention and national phase PCT applications. An invention can relate to a product or a manufacturing process. To be patentable the invention must be new, involve an inventive step and be industrially applicable. The usual exclusions apply, for example scientific discoveries, methods of economic activity, software, diagnostic methods, living substances and immoral inventions.There is also an exclusion of ‘informative presentations.’
Absolute (worldwide) novelty is required. Novelty is not destroyed if the disclosure occurred within 12 months of the filing of the application or the priority date.
The owner has the right to stop others making, importing, selling or stocking for such purposes the patented product or using the patented process. Acts done for private purposes or scientific research are excluded from the owner’s exclusive rights, as are acts necessary for the manufacture of generic medicines. In legal proceedings the patent owner can be granted an injunction, damages and seizure. Infringement is also a criminal offence with fines and imprisonment possible, and there are provisions that allow a patent owner to ask the Customs authorities to detain infringing goods.
It is important to note that Tunisia has signed a patent validation agreement with the European Patent Office. This allows for the validation of European patents in Tunisia.
For patents of invention (non-PCT) the following documents are required: a Power of Attorney; specification, claims and abstract in English, Arabic or French; formal drawings; assignment of priority rights; priority documents with a verified translation into the language in which the application was filed. There is formal examination and refusal is possible. If the application is in order it is published. The grant of the patent will be suspended if within two months of publication a party gives notice that it is contesting the application before a court.
There is also provision for surrender by the proprietor, cancellation (revocation) by a third party, and forfeiture for failure to pay fees.
A patent lasts for 20 years from the filing date. Renewal fees are due annually from the first anniversary of the filing date. Compulsory licensing can be granted after the expiry of four years from the filing date or three years from grant (whichever is the later) on the basis that the patented invention is not being supplied on reasonable terms.
There is specific legislation regarding plant varieties and integrated circuits.