Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

INTELLECTUAL property (IP) has become a key tool for economic development and industrialisation, as well as a way of facilitating competition, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told a conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Opening the Africa IP Forum, Mr Davies urged South African companies to embrace intellectual property rights and laws that could be used to protect local products and innovations against counterfeit goods.

The minister told delegates to be wary of companies registering local trademarks in different geographical regions, to the detriment of local entrepreneurs.

He said it was important to use intellectual property laws to protect innovators because if creative minds were not protected, they would be disadvantaged.

"Members of the society must be encouraged to innovate through programmes such as incentive schemes, supported by dedicated institutions to commercialise their innovations," he said.

Mr Davies called for an increased focus on intellectual property laws, adding: "It is therefore very important for the IP laws to be updated every three to five years to keep abreast of the developments that are taking place in industry as people innovate on a wider scale."

This comes days after it was reported that the rooibos industry was fighting to protect its intellectual property after a French company applied to register a number of trademarks incorporating the terms "South African Rooibos" and "Rooibos" last year.

Mr Davies said he had written to the French embassy on the matter, as rooibos tea was made from the leaves of a shrub indigenous only to South Africa. If the French trademark application succeeded, it would hamper future South African exports of the tea into French territory.

"Rooibos is as South African as wors," he said. "We must be ready to defend South Africa’s trade and intellectual property interests vigorously."

The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have also lodged an objection with the French embassy in South Africa and with the European Commission delegation based in Pretoria.

More than 500 delegates were expected to attend the two-day Africa IP Forum. Participants were to discuss the integral and critical effect of intellectual property on African economic growth and challenges related to intellectual property in Africa.