Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and innovators in general have been urged to register their ideas and products to safeguard them from pirates and other unscrupulous individuals.
Emmanuel Hategeka, the Ministry of Trade and Industry permanent secretary, said because the majority of SMEs do not register their innovations or products with the Rwanda Development Board, some elements take advantage to steal or use them illegally.
"We have received many complaints, especially from musicians and artists, claiming that people are selling their products and services without permission. However, we always find that they have never registered them, making it hard to identify the true owner," he said.
He was speaking during a two-day workshop on intellectual property rights organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Kigali on Tuesday.
Hategeka also noted that SMEs which register their products and services for intellectual property rights and Geographic Indications (GIs) gain more recognition and acceptability in the market, besides protecting them against piracy.
Intellectual property gives one exclusive rights to their innovations. It takes various forms such as trademarks, patents, copyrights and industrial design rights. GIs identify products which are unique by virtue of where they originate from, considering particular conditions like climate and soil of location, skills and technology employed to produce them and overtime product development.
Hategeka said embracing these initiatives also helps SMEs become more competitive as they build their brand value, ensuring they earn handsomely from their efforts.
He added that Geographic Indications products will make it easier for the ministry to market Rwandan goods.
Hategeka said Rwandan products like tea, coffee, oils and crafts could also be registered under the WIPO as GIs to protect them and enhance their brand value.
"With the Geographic Indications, no one can sell a registered product unless they pay the franchise owner."
WIPO's Francesca Toso said registering products as intellectual property challenges entrepreneurs to maintain a certain quality standard, and boosts the capacity to serve for both the domestic and international markets.
Marie Chantal Nyirakamineza, the maker of Ibengeza Honey, said the Western Province-based firm recently exported honey samples to Europe, which impressed buyers.
"I am sure if we register our honey brand for Geographic Indications and intellectual property, its value will increase and create confidence among buyers, especially in Europe," she said.
According to statistics from the Office of the Registrar General, there were 874 products and services registered for intellectual property rights last year compared to 803 in 2012.
Hategeka said the ministry would sensitise SME operators to embrace the initiatives, noting that they are in line with the country's goal to improve export volumes and receipts.