Why Rwanda is the next big opportunity for IP investors

Rwanda is a landlocked country, located south of the Equator in east-central Africa, bordering Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Uganda. Its capital, located in the centre of the country, is Kigali and the local currency is the Rwandan Franc, issued by the National Bank of Rwanda.

The last two decades have been ones of reconstruction and reconciliation, following the troubled 90s that left the country scarred by civil war and the 1994 genocide, in which more than 800,000 civilians were tragically killed.

Almost 30 years later, Rwanda still struggles to heal and rebuild, however, it is showing signs of steady recovery.

Even after the turn of the millennium, the country had insufficient access to energy, particularly in rural areas, and to this day still requires significant investment in its infrastructure if it is to achieve socioeconomic development.

Nevertheless, the nation has made major progress in the last 20 years and was, in 2019, on the verge of an economic boom, when it was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which shifted Rwanda’s debt sustainability from low to moderate.

Earlier this year it was reported that a $1.2 billion investment would be made in energy production projects, setting the target date of 2024 to reach 100% access to energy. Power projects are mainly hydroelectric, taking advantage of the country’s favourable conditions for sustainable energy production.

This will be crucial to Rwanda’s socioeconomic development, especially given the expected population growth of 25% over the next decade, totalling a population of over 16 million.

Of course, with such predictions, Rwanda becomes more and more interesting to foreign investors and importers, and, with that, proper protection of the intellectual property is climbing up the agenda.


Current trademark system in Rwanda

Trademark applications are reasonably simple in this jurisdiction. Rwanda has been a member of the Paris Convention since 1984 and of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property since 1996. It has also been a member of the Madrid Protocol on Trademarks since March 2013.

Protection is possible either through national registration in the local trademark office or international registration via WIPO or through the Madrid Protocol. Types of trademarks in Rwanda include goods and services as well as collective and certification trademarks.

It is also possible to claim priority in this jurisdiction. The Nice Classification applies and Rwanda is a multi-class jurisdiction. The protection of well known trademarks is also possible.

Trademark search before filing is not mandatory although it is highly recommended. The official search will take 10 to 12 days to be concluded.

Applicants must provide the following documents:

  • power of Attorney, notarised;
  • applicant data (ie, full name and address);
  • sample of the mark (not required for word marks);
  • a list of goods and/or services; and
  • a certified copy of the priority document, with verified English translation (if priority is claimed).

The registration process usually takes 12 to 18 months and is composed of the following steps:

  • filing the request before the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and issuance of application filing receipt with application filing number;
  • formal and substantial exam conducted by the PTO;
  • issuance of the report of acceptance by the PTO;
  • publication of the application in the IP Bulletin;
  • a 60 day-period for the filing of oppositions by third parties that consider themselves to be adversely affected by the registration of the trademark; and
  • issuance of registration certificate.

Trademarks in Rwanda are valid for 10 years from the filing date and may be consecutively renewed for the same period. In terms of the use requirement and cancellation, the non-use period is three years.


Looking ahead

While there is room for development, it is clear that Rwanda already has a robust trademark system in place. This – coupled with a growing population and impressive predictions of economic growth – means that the country should definitely be on the radars of investors seeking fresh opportunities.


This is a co-published article, which was originally published in the World Trademark Review (WTR).

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