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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

With coasts along the Mediterranean basin and a close proximity to Europe, Tunisia occupies a regional position of great importance in North Africa. Tunisia is an export-oriented country that is actively liberalizing and privatizing its economy. The country has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and petroleum products, to tourism. Key exports include textiles and apparel, food products, petroleum products, chemicals, and phosphates, with about 80 percent of exports bound for Tunisia's main economic partner, the European Union.

Tunisia’s strategy, coupled with investments in education and infrastructure, fueled decades of 4-5 percent annual GDP growth and improved living standards for the local population. Tunisia's economy is structurally designed to favor vested interests. The annual GDP growth averaged 1.9 percent over the past year and the GDP is $135.4 billion, while the GDP per capita is $11,800. Furthermore, the GDP composition by sector of origin is 9.9 percent for agriculture, 25.6 percent for industry, and 64 percent for services.

Tunisia maintains a relatively comprehensive regulatory and legislative system for the protection of trademarks, patents, designs, copyright, and trade secrets. In addition, Tunisia is a party to the Berne Convention, Madrid Agreement (Source), Nairobi Treaty, Paris Convention, Budapest Treaty, Hague Agreement, Lisbon Agreement, Madrid Protocol, Patent Cooperation Treaty, Nice Agreement, Vienna Agreement, and The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.

On the trademarks front, Tunisia follows 11th edition of the Nice classification and multiclass applications are acceptable. Trademark examination is performed on formal and absolute grounds, and oppositions may be filed after 60 days from publication date. The protection term for a trademark is 10 years from filing date and is renewable for like periods. As for use, trademarks are vulnerable to a cancellation action by any interested party if there has been no effective use of the mark for a period of five consecutive years preceding date of filing for cancellation.

As for patents, the European Patent Office and the Tunisian Patent Office (INNORPI) signed an agreement, which stipulates that European patent applications with a filing date of December 1, 2017 or later can designate TN and European patent grants can be validated in Tunisia. Although Tunisia is not a European Patent Convention member state, the Law provides the country a pseudo-EPC status with regards to patent procurement, and is expected to encourage more filings and more foreign investment.

It is possible to file patent applications in Tunisia via PCT national stage entry or claiming Paris Convention. In line with expected PCT Rules, patents are protected for a period of 20 years, from the international filing date. Annuities are due annually on the anniversary of the international filing date and payable as of nationalization of the application in Tunisia. A one year grace period is observed for late payment along with a surcharge.

Tunisia, as aforementioned, remains a country with high aspirations that welcomes foreign investments. A healthy balance between the latter and local development is bound to be beneficial for the country’s own growth. The proper application and enforcement of IP laws should help Tunisia become more of an innovative hub in North Africa and lead to this required healthy financial balance.

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