Tanzania: trade marks in Africa - at a glance

Trade mark activity is growing rapidly in Africa, both as regards protection and enforcement. Yet there is still a great deal of uncertainty. This is the next in our series of country-specific updates. Here we focus on Tanzania (mainland).


With a population of 53 million and a GDP of US$47 billion, Tanzania is Africa’s 12th largest economy. Economic growth is estimated to be around 6% per annum over the next 10 years and, importantly, the country’s high urbanisation rate means that consumer demand is growing fast. The country is politically stable. Like many African countries, Tanzania has serious problems with counterfeit goods.

Tanzania has specific trade mark legislation, the Trade Marks and Services Marks Act, 1986. It is important to note that for trade mark purposes ‘Tanzania’ refers simply to the mainland, with the island of Zanzibar having its own trade mark system. Who? Any person who uses or proposes to use a trade mark can validly file an application.


The concept of a trade mark is limited to any visible sign that is capable of graphic reproduction and includes words, names, brands, devices and signatures. There is a specific prohibition on registering trade marks that consist solely of the shape, configuration or colours of the goods, or containers. In order to be registrable a trade mark must be capable of distinguishing, either inherently or through use.

A trade mark that is confusingly similar to a registered trade mark that covers the same or closely-related goods or services can be refused, although registration on the basis of honest concurrent use is possible. In an interesting recent opposition, the Tanzanian Registrar upheld an opposition filed by the Scotch Whisky Association against an application to register McKenzie’s Royal Whisky on the basis that it falsely suggested Scottish origin – the Registrar held that not only was confusion as to origin very likely, but the motive was almost certainly to cause confusion.

The owner of a registration has the right to stop use of the same mark or a confusingly similar mark in relation to goods or services covered by the registration, or closely related goods or services. Prior use can be raised as a defence. The law also recognises the common law action of passing off. In 2008, Tanzania passed regulations to deal with counterfeiting and piracy – these regulations provide for the appointment of a task force and a Chief Inspector, powers of detention and seizure of goods, asset-freezing orders, and criminal prosecutions.


Priority claims are possible but multi-class filing is not, the International Classification system applies, and a Power of Attorney (no notarisation) is required. There is examination and the applicant can be required to enter disclaimers. If an application is accepted there is advertisement and opposition is possible.


The registration term is seven years followed by renewal terms of 10 years. The non-use term is three years, although a registration cannot be attacked within five years of the date of registration. Use by a recorded licensee will suffice.

Date published: 26 February 2017
Author: Spoor & Fisher

Tags: Tanzania trade marks