/ 24 June 2009

Taxis have no legal rights over BRT routes, says expert

Taxis cannot lay claim to any bus rapid transit (BRT) routes as their intellectual property, a legal expert said on Wednesday.

”Transport routes do not constitute subject matter which can be termed intellectual property,” said Herman Blignaut, partner at intellectual property specialist Spoor & Fisher.

On Tuesday the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) said it wanted full ownership of the BRT system because it had developed the routes the BRT system was targeting.

”The taxi industry is therefore justified in claiming intellectual property or goodwill on the taxi routes and taxi ranks,” secretary-general Alpheus Mlalazi said.

He said government ”inadvertently legitimised” the claim of intellectual property over routes by carrying out a taxi industry regulation process which included the registration of taxi associations, their members and routes.

On Wednesday Blignaut said South African’s intellectual property laws were clearly defined, ranging from trade marks to patents and copyrights.

”Among these, no provision is made for taxi routes,” he said.

Blignaut said the NTA would have to show that what they were referring to constituted intellectual property.

”Assuming they could do that, which they can’t, what registration process has been undergone to protect their claim?

”In the absence of any intellectual property rights or contractual restrictions to that effect, the government is free to operate the Bus Rapid Transit system on the routes currently used by taxis.”

In any case, Blignaut said, intellectual property law only provided limited exclusivity.

”Once that period expires, the intellectual property in question falls into the public domain.”

Blignaut said the legal system favoured copying because it benefited consumers.

For example, he said, British Airways could not prevent South African Airways from flying the same routes across the world on the basis of intellectual property rights, even if it was the first to fly those routes.

”This is one manner in which the law allows for copying,” said Blignaut.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was ”hardly correct” for the NTA to claim intellectual property on the BRT.

”The taxi industry developed because of lack of vision and poor planning under the National Party government,” said DA transport spokesperson Nico de Jager.

”The road infrastructure that taxis are using developed because that was what the economy had dictated.”

He said the taxi industry had ”long since overplayed their hand”.

”The inability for the various taxi operating companies to get some of their members to abide by the general rules of road safety and decent behaviour has led to the need to develop a system such as the BRT.”

On Tuesday Mlalazi said unless Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele met the NTA, it would embark on a protest.

Earlier this month Ndebele announced the formation of a joint working group on public transport to deal with the taxi industry’s concerns over the BRT system and other issues affecting the sector.

Transport Department spokesperson Logan Maistry said on Tuesday the minister would meet the NTA ”as soon as possible” as part of his commitment to engage with all relevant parties.

He said the department was confident that the joint working group, formed at the June 11 meeting to deal with issues about the BRT system and the taxi industry, would fulfil its function.

”We are confident that whatever outstanding issues [there are] the joint working group will be able to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of all parties.” — Sapa