Meetings On IP And Innovation In Africa Open In Tanzania

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A ministerial-level meeting organised by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Japan Patent Office, and the Tanzanian government began today in Dar es Salaam. The two-day conference, which focuses on how IP can stimulate innovation and development, will be followed by a UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting and a US Department of Commerce Commercial Law and Development Program (CLDP)-led workshop on IP use and protection at the same venue.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and WIPO Director General Francis Gurry opened the African Conference on the Strategic Importance of Intellectual Property Policies to Foster Innovation, Value Creation and Competitiveness, which is being held in Dar es Salaam from 12-13 March. Some twenty African ministers, senior policymakers, and entrepreneurs are participating in the meeting, according to a WIPO press release. The conference will address themes such as Africa’s development challenges, promoting an innovative environment, and WIPO’s role in fostering innovation.

In his opening speech, Kikwete said, “I am aware of the arguments from some corners that intellectual property may not be as beneficial to developing countries because it limits technology transfer through imitation. I know, also, the assertion that IP increases the prices of medicine, agricultural inputs and many other things.”

“However, true this may be, embracing IP policies and measures is comparatively, far more beneficial to the overall growth of nations and economies than doing otherwise. Putting in place appropriate IP policies and measures are critical factors in promoting innovation and competitiveness which play key role in economic growth and sustainable development,” Kikwete said.

For his part, Gurry emphasised the role of innovation as a driver of economic growth during his opening intervention. He also said that “intellectual property is an indispensable mechanism for translating knowledge into commercial assets – IP rights create a secure environment for investment in innovation and provide a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets.”

Immediately following the WIPO conference, the UN ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review: Regional Preparatory Meeting for Africa will be held at the same venue in Dar es Salaam on 14 March. Co-organised by WIPO, the meeting is also hosted by the governments of Tanzania and Japan, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

According to an organiser, the WIPO-ECOSOC event will “focus on innovation more broadly, but of course with an IP component.” Topics include how innovation can be an enabler for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda. This meeting is part of a series of regional consultations taking place this year, with the next one scheduled to take place at the UN in Geneva in July.

Return of the African IP Forum

On the heels of this week’s meetings, the US Department of Commerce Commercial Law Development Program (CDIP) and the African Intellectual Property Group (AIPG), a new pro-IP industry association, are co-hosting a Workshop on the Practical Approaches to IP Utilization and Protection in Africa from 19-21 March also at the same venue in Dar es Salaam. According to organisers, the Tanzanian government, the East African Community, the US Patent and Trademark Office, Copyright Office, Department of Justice, Customs and Border Enforcement, Department of State, and African and international private sector stakeholders were involved in the development of the workshop.

The draft agenda [doc] outlines an event highly focused on protecting IP rights with topics on cooperative approaches to IPR protection, consumer protection and the dangers of counterfeit goods, and effective criminal IPR enforcement.

Last year, a CLDP-led conference called the “Africa Intellectual Property Forum: Intellectual Property, Regional Integration and Economic Growth in Africa” and scheduled to take place in Cape Town, South Africa from 3-5 April drew heavy criticism from civil society and eventually postponed.

Governments of the United States, Japan, France, and South Africa were also involved in the organisation of that meeting, as were several intergovernmental organisations, including WIPO. Over 100 non-governmental organisations submitted a letter to Gurry calling for the scrapping of the meeting due to an unbalanced agenda too focused on IP protection and ignoring the importance of flexibilities and compulsory licensing for development.

A few weeks ago, the South African government organised a development-oriented meeting on African IP in Johannesburg (IPW, Development, 1 March 2013). Its meeting focussed less on protection and more finding appropriate policies to generate local IP and innovation. http://www.ip-watch.org/2013/03/01/speakers-outline-ideas-for-africa-to-find-appropriate-ip-policies/

So far, civil society has largely been quiet on the three meetings on IP and innovation in Africa taking place in Tanzania this week and next. However, a signer of last year’s petition told Intellectual Property Watch that their “concerns are the same” and that the focus in general is misleading because “using and protecting IP is not a magic bullet for innovation.”

Related articles:

http://www.ip-watch.org/2012/02/12/us-wipo-training-programme-on-ip-rights-in-africa-comes-under-fire/

http://www.ip-watch.org/2012/02/26/us-wipo-ip-summit-in-africa-postponed/

 

Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at info@ip-watch.org.

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