URSB moves to check patent, copyright abuse

Employees arrange files at Uganda Resistration Services Bureau offices in Kampala. The government agency is in charge of registering businesses, among other roles. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE

What you need to know:

Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) was established in 1998 to, among other things, register business names, companies, intellectual property like trademarks, patents, copyrights, chattels securities and handle insolvency matters. Daily Monitor’s Stephen Otage talked to Bemanya Twebaze, the registrar general URSB. Below are the excerpts.

What is the purpose of this bureau?
The purpose of URSB is to spearhead legal and business registration reforms, private sector growth through enterprise formalisation and revenue collection.
We are a public institution previously known as the department of Registrar General under the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. URSB was granted a self-accounting status in 2010 and its restructuring started towards the end of 2011.

Since establishment, what impact have you created?
We have facilitated private sector growth by creating an environment where enterprises operate in a legally regulated economy which has broadened the tax base for government. This facilitates business growth, creates jobs and increases business earnings, which contributes to wealth creation and poverty reduction. Business formalisation is the main growth path for enterprises. It increases their public visibility, access to markets, finance, participation in public procurement and access to government assistance programmes.

We register intellectual property like industrial designs that add appeal, commercial value and marketability of products. Registering patents provides incentives to the individuals for their creativity and inventions.
Our impact since restructuring has led to the expanded tax register which has spurred economic growth and we now advise government on business and investment matters that inform policy and legal reforms.

What is the difference between a patent and a copyright?
Both are intellectual property that should be protected. A patent is an exclusive right granted in respect of an invention, which may be a product or a process that provides a new and inventive way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. Examples range from electric lighting (patents held by Edison and Swan) and plastic (patents held by Baekeland), to ballpoint pens (patents held by Biro), microprocessors (patents held by Intel, for example), telephones (patents held by Bell) and CDs (patents held by Russell).

A copyright, on the other hand, provides protection to authors (writers, artists, music composers, etc.) on their creations. Such work may include but is not limited to, literary works such as novels, poems and plays; reference works such as encyclopedias and dictionaries; databases; newspaper articles; films and TV programmes; musical compositions; choreography; artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures; architecture; and advertisements, maps and technical drawings. Copyright also protects computer programmes, expressions of thought, but does not include ideas.
We also have chattels and securities registration which enable individuals and businesses that own movable assets that can act as collateral, to access credit from financial institutions. Marriage registration, on the other hand, enables individuals, businesses and financial institutions to verify the marital status of the clients who want to access mortgages, credit and property.
We also advise businesses that want to wind up in case of insolvency on how to survive.

How many companies, copyrights and patents have you registered since inception?
Currently, we have a total of 440,378 companies and business names on the register, 24 patents have been granted, and 381 Copyright applications received since the Act came into force in 2008.

How are you curbing infringement on patents and copyrights?
Reproducing a copyright and selling it at a cheaper price without authorisation causes huge losses to owner thereby dampening innovation and creativity which discourages investment and undermines tax collection.
We appointed inspectors under the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act to facilitate enforcement activities like seizure of suspected infringed items and arrest the suspected persons. We are finalising arrangements to set up a Police Intellectual Property Enforcement Unit whose duty is to enhance and strengthen capacities of collaborating institutions responsible for IP enforcement.

Why is this service restricted to only Kampala?
We have regional and branch offices in Gulu, Mbarara, Arua, Mbale, Posta Office Kampala Road, Nakivubo Mews Street and at Twed Towers Lumumba avenue at UIA offices. We plan to open additional offices in Hoima, Kabale, Lira and Moroto.
But until 2013, URSB services were only at our head office in Kampala.
What is the future of briefcase companies and businesses without physical addresses?
We are working with URA, KCCA and Local Governments to ensure that all businesses operating in their jurisdictions come on board before issuance of trading licence and tax identification number.

How do other government agencies benefit from the bureau?
We work with Parliament, UIA, UNRA, NITA (U), IGG, PPDA and Uganda Police. Force whom we share information with to facilitate their mandates.

What are the common businesses you are registering, their ownership and source of capital?
We are registering mainly sole proprietorships in the category of SMEs and MSMEs. We are seeing steady growth of businesses in the oil sector; the hospitality and tourism industry and the main sources of capital are largely personal savings and credits from financial institutions.

What challenges do you face as a Bureau?
Lack of funds and human resourcesn are our greatest challenges.

The way forward?
We are now focusing on simplification, automation and increased access across the country.