On 6 December 2021, the Permanent Secretary for the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs V. Mabiza opened the meeting of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) Administrative Council in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The Permanent Secretary took the opportunity during her opening remarks to announce the formation of a separate office for Companies and Intellectual Property which had been published by Notice in the Government Gazette on 26 November 2021. The Notice stated the ‘Separation of the Office for the Registration of Companies and Other Business Entities and Intellectual Property from the Deeds Registry’. This notice effectively declared that the Companies and Intellectual Property divisions are, with immediate effect, operating separately from the Deeds Registry.
Zimbabwe is situated in Southern Africa. It borders Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Previously there were three units in one Department of Deeds, Companies and Intellectual Property and the goal was to register and protect the proprietary rights in land, formal business organizations and intellectual property. The former Deputy Chief Registrar of Department of Deeds, Companies and Intellectual Property, Mr. W. Mushayi, has been confirmed as the newly appointed Chief Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property Office.
It has been stated by the Government of Zimbabwe that the separation has been undertaken as part of its policy measures to facilitate the ‘Zimbabwe’s Ease of Doing Business’ environment under the ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’ mantra. But what does this exactly mean for the newly formed Companies and Intellectual Property Office entity? For some time, there has been discussion that the Intellectual Property office should be autonomous or semi-autonomous with control of its operations, revenue and budget which has been a trend in other countries in Africa and other parts of the world. There were no specific details concerning the structure of the new office. However, although the Companies and Intellectual Property Office will operate separately from Deeds Registry, the newly created office will remain under the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. The extent to which it will be autonomous or semi–autonomous in terms of control of its operations, revenue and budget will remain to be seen as the new structure is implemented. As this announcement has only just recently been made, the new Companies and Intellectual Property Office is still very much an organization in transition. It can be expected that for the next several months several critical steps will need to be taken to separate the Deeds unit from the Companies and Intellectual Property units that have been joined for years. Certain processes like accounting and receipting which have been combined for all three units will now have to be split up.
Likewise, the new Companies and Intellectual Property Office has inherited problems that existed within the previous units. With respect to Intellectual Property Office, the Industrial Property Automation System (IPAS) is currently inoperable due to hardware malfunction. As the IPAS system is necessary for the processing of all IP activities at Intellectual Property Office, this has meant that all new documents filed and all pending applications at the IP Office cannot be processed. By extension, this also means that any new and existing applications will not be processed within the new entity Companies and Intellectual Property Office until the IPAS system is repaired or replaced. Concerning the Companies section, there have been long standing issues with the office that have caused delays in the registration of new companies, post registration activities (such as, Annual Returns or amendments to Directors and / or other company details, etc.). That office has attempted for several years to implement an on-line filing system which to date has not been fully integrated or functional. This separation of Companies and Intellectual Property Office from the Deeds Office presents a unique opportunity in which the new entity can seek to effectively resolve all issues to create a high performing institution. So, it goes without saying that there is still a lot of work ahead with respect to defining and implementing new operational procedures that will be more efficient than in the past.
The publication of the Notice of the separation of the Companies and Intellectual Property units from the Department of Deeds, came one week shy of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) annual meeting of its Administrative Council and its bi-annual meeting of Council of Ministers. The meetings are taking place this week at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from 6 through 9 December 2021. In a unanimous vote, the Republic of Zimbabwe was elected to be the next Chair of the ARIPO Administrative Council. The Chair serves for one term of two years.