Ranking (trademark) innovation in Africa

The 2020 Global Innovation Index (GII) was released in September. The study was authored by WIPO, Cornell University and INSEAD and focused on innovation financing, against the backdrop of the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic. This article focuses on how African countries performed, using trademark-related information as an indicator.


Africa at a glance

The most innovative economies on the continent are Mauritius (52ndplace), South Africa (60th), Tunisia (65th) and Morocco (75th). The study concluded that while most countries ranked fairly low in several indicators, such as R&D, high government reliance and challenging business environments, the report highlighted several countries’ strengths, including high expenditure in education (ie, Botswana and Tunisia), R&D (ie, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt) and strong use of the IP system (ie, Kenya, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar and Morocco).

In sub-Saharan Africa, besides Mauritius and South Africa, the top innovators are Kenya (86th), Tanzania (88th), Botswana (89th), Rwanda (91st) and Cape Verde (100th), while the remaining 10 ranked countries scored lower than 100th place.

The study shows that sub-Saharan countries tend to perform above expectations compared to their level of development. However, while these countries’ strengths are in their institutions, markets and business sophistication, their weakness is in creative output.


Trademarks as an indicator of innovation in Africa

The number of trademark applications by origin (class count) – measured by gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity – was one of the creative outputs that the GII evaluated. In this sphere, the top African countries are Mauritius (21st), Namibia (26th), Madagascar (40th), Morocco (55th), Togo (60th), Cabo Verde (73rd), Kenya (74th) Mozambique (77th) and South Africa (79th).

The report demonstrates that for Mauritius and Namibia, the volume of trademark applications should be seen as an innovation strength, meaning that it is one of the 10 innovation indicators for that country. With regard to Madagascar and Togo, this indicator is deemed an income group strength, meaning that the countries rank above average for their income. On the other hand, this indicator is seen as a weakness in Zimbabwe (123rd) and Ethiopia (126th).



While this analysis shows that African countries still have some catching up to do in terms of innovation, the report confirms that they have many strengths, which could foster sustained growth in neighbouring countries if progress and cooperation is encouraged and practical innovation policies are enacted.

The number of trademark applications by origin demonstrates that although some African countries are global leaders, others still rank fairly low.

Trademark applications are a good measure of innovation in intellectual property as they show the creative outputs of local companies trying to sell their goods and services. However, grassroots IP policies are still required to push for development in the African IP landscape.


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

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