Thursday 2 October 2008

South Africa: Anne Pratt - latest decision on exchange control

The initial Anne Pratt case (Anne Pratt v First Rand Bank Limited [2004] 4 All SA 306 (T)) caused quite a stir amongst IP professionals in RSA dealing with the transfer and licensing of RSA IP assets with foreign based companies. The decision appeared to support an earlier decision in Couve (Couve and Another v Reddot International (Pty) Ltd and others 2004 (6) SA 425 (W)) that the transfer of assets (including IP assets - albeit that the subject matter of the Anne Pratt case was not IP) to a non-resident without the approval by the Exchange Control Department of the Reserve Bank was void. The Couve decision appeared to conflict with a 1981 decision (Barclays National Bank v Brownlee 1981 (3) SA 579 (D)) which concluded that a contravention would not result in a nullity. In the initial Anne Pratt case though the court held that exchange control had been granted. Anne appealed and, on 12 September, failed.

The decision goes into some depth on exchange control rulings and the practices relating to them in respect of the sale of securities. Of relevance to this blog appears to be the observation on "onus" which the court felt rests on the plaintiff ie to adduce and prove that exchange control approval was not obtained. Proving a negative is never easy and this may provide some comfort to those involved in IP transactions (perhaps even a simple trade mark assignment) where exchange control was not been obtained and who may fear the transaction void. Nonetheless, there now seems to be a SCA (Supreme Court of Appeal) decision in RSA which does not disapprove of the earlier Pratt cases (endorsing Couve) even though the SCA was not specifically asked, it appears, to adjudicate on the ramification of a failure to obtain exchange control approval.

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