Globalization of Patent Laws through Trade Agreements, and Pressures on Ethiopia's Patent Regime: The Passenger behind the Wheel

AuthorAbdulkader Mohammed Yusuf
PositionAbdulkader Mohammed Yusuf, PhD student and Part-time Lecturer, School of Law, Addis Ababa University; Managing Partner, Anchor Consulting PLC; Email: /
Globalization of Patent Laws through Trade
Agreements, and Pressures on Ethiopia‟s
Patent Regime:
The Passenger behind the Wheel
Abdulkader Mohammed Yusuf
Given that patent law emerged in domestic systems, there was an obvious diversity
of patent regimes. With the advent of cross-border movement of resources,
including inventions, there was a need for a harmonized patent regime. The issue
went to another level with the entry into force of the WTO/TRIPS Agreement,
which requires WTO members to enact new patent laws or amend existing ones to
make them TRIPS compliant. The Ethiopian Patent Law, which was enacted in
1995, is strangely TRIPS compliant, tempting many to think that it had Ethiopia‟s
forthcoming accession in mind. However, with Ethiopia yet to complete the
accession process, there are further pressures from industrialized countries to ensure
that stringent patent rules are complied with in developing countries. This article
examines TRIPS, the Cotonou Agreement and AGOA as effective instruments of
ensuring compliance. It is argued that the Ethiopian patent system will continue to
observe TRIPS and other standards as dictated by the Global North.
Key terms
Globalization · Harmonization · IP · Patent · TRIPS Agreement · BTA · GSP ·
Cotonou Agreement · AGOA
Received: 31 March 2018 Accepted: 30 September 2018
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
Abdulkader Mohammed Yusuf, PhD student and Part-time Lecturer, School of Law,
Addis Ababa University; Managing Partner, Anchor Consulting PLC;
Email: /
Frequently used acronyms
African, Caribbean and Pacific
Least Developed Countries
African Growth and Opportunity Act
Bilateral Trade Agreements
Patent Cooperation Treaty
Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Prop. Rights
Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office
Intellectual Property
World Intellectual Property Organization
World Trade Organization
72 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 12, No.1 September 2018
Although intellectual property (IP) rights existed for so long in some countries,
it is fairly a new area of property rights, particularly as compared with real
property rights. IP can be classified into two broad areas: copyright and
industrial property. These categories cover areas such as copyright and related
rights, trademark, geographical indications, industrial designs and patents. With
the development of IP protection pertaining to different areas, there is tension
between protecting the interests of creators/inventors and public interest.
Indeed, patent laws have developed fast in the past few decades both at the
international and national levels. One can notice the development of international
patent laws and harmonization efforts starting from the 1883 Paris Convention.
However, the globalization of patent law gained momentum upon the
establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The Agreement
on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) is one of the regimes
under WTO which requires members (including those in the process of
accession) to enact new laws or amend existing ones, one of the most important
fields being patent.
Ethiopia applied for WTO accession in January 2003 and the Working Party
on the Accession of Ethiopia was established in February 2003.1 The Ethiopian
Patent Law is largely TRIPS compliant in important aspects which tempts us to
think that our house is in order, albeit at the cost of citizens. The Ethiopian
Patent Law is the manifestation of the pressure of globalization than a domestic
policy objective, and it will further be stretched during the accession process if
local production capacity (in using certain inventions in Ethiopia) makes
progress. The experience of other countries shows this trend, particularly in
view of what it entails on domestic policy decision making.
Apart from TRIPS, there are also some bilateral trade agreements (BTAs)
that incorporate provisions on IP. Although numerous in number and diverse in
nature, this article looks into the impact of the EU-ACP Economic Partnership
Agreement, also known as the Cotonou Agreement.2 It also explores a
Generalized System of Preferences (GSPs), in the form of the African Growth
and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which sounds like a non-reciprocal trade benefit
but a look at its objectives, the eligibility criteria and the experience of the US
vis-á-vis certain Sub-Saharan African countries tells a different story. This can
1 For Ethiopia‟s accession, see
accessed 28 September
2 Partnership Agreement between the Members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group
of States of the One Part, and the European Community and its Member States o f the Other
Part, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000 (the Cotonou Agreement).

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