At US-Led Workshop, African Stakeholders Call For “Home Grown IP Agenda”

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Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – In a re-cast, smaller version of the event that was planned and postponed last year, the US Commerce Department’s [corrected] workshop on IP utilisation and protection in Africa opened yesterday. It is co-organised by the African Intellectual Property Group (AIPG), a new pro-IP association of stakeholders across the continent, which says it’s time for Africa to find its own voice on intellectual property issues.

The regional workshop on “Practical Approaches to IP Utilization and Protection in Africa” is being held in Dar es Salaam from 19-21 March, with an agenda that focuses on the development, protection, and enforcement of IP. The US Department of Commerce Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) is co-sponsoring the meeting with AIPG, in collaboration with the US Embassy of Tanzania and the East African Community (EAC).

On Tuesday, participants emphasised the need to set an Africa IP agenda, more research on the impact of strong IPR protection, and to debunk the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” IP policy for Africa.

The US Agenda

Originally scheduled last year, the CLDP had planned an “Africa Intellectual Property Forum: Intellectual Property, Regional Integration and Economic Growth in Africa” to take place in Cape Town, South Africa with the involvement of Japan, France, South Africa, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), among other organisations. It was postponed following criticism from civil society over an unbalanced agenda, too focused on IP protection and lacking a development dimension.

A US government official said that this workshop is “less ambitious” in scope compared to last year’s event, but similar in terms of the programme content. This three-day IP workshop agenda [pdf] covers topics ranging from establishing African brands and facilitating investment to improving IP administration and fighting counterfeit goods.

“We are here to discuss a global challenge – the protection of IP rights,” said Alfonso Lenhardt, US Ambassador to Tanzania, during his opening remarks. Noting a wide range of US-sponsored training programmes for artists, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders that have taken place across the country, he also said that he was “proud” of the “robust IP regime” that Tanzania is building.

Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies today and the Obama administration has made expanding US trade and investment there a priority, with strengthening IP regimes a part of the strategy.

Holly Vineyard, deputy assistant secretary for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia at the US State Department, said that she was pleased to see so many countries represented at the workshop, noting that President Obama’s strategy on growth and development “recommends taking a regional approach”.

Establishing an African Voice on IP

Meanwhile, Bankole Sodipo, a founding member of AIPG and professor of law at Babcock University in Nigeria, said during his opening intervention [doc], “Africa, this is our WAKATI,” or time in Swahili and other African languages. “This is our time to get right [a] home grown intellectual property agenda!”

“Today, more than ever, Africans whether living on Africa soil or in the Diaspora need to network to nurture our intellectual property. We need to share experiences, to evaluate and consider how we can promote our culture, our creative industries, our innovation and our investments and ensure that intellectual property becomes a tool for African economic emancipation,” he said.

“In the true spirit of Africa, we need to protect what we should, of the intellectual property rights of non-Africans. We need to build capacity for all stakeholders and seek to balance the private rights with the public benefits for intellectual property,” he said.

According to a workshop handout [pdf], the AIPG is a “voluntary Africa-wide association of IP stakeholders including practitioners, national IP institutions, government agencies, regional bodies, industry associations, and individual IP stakeholders.” Founded in 2012, the group aims to provide a multi-sector forum to discuss policies and promote the development of IP in Africa. The AIPG secretariat is currently hosted by the Anti-Counterfeiting Agency in Kenya.

The AIPG held a meeting- one of its firsts – following the IP workshop Tuesday to establish some basic elements of organisation. Discussion points included defining membership, establishing governance, and funding. So far, the CLDP has provided funding to the group.

One participant from the Science and Technology Department at the Nelson Mandela University said that the group is “truly needed” and called on organisers to focus on “priorities that are really important to us,” which included biopiracy, misuse of traditional knowledge, and genetic resources.

Call for More Research

Steve Mallowah, director general and CEO of Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeiting Agency (ACA), addressed the ongoing debate concerning economic implications of IPRs in the context of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and increasing pressure on countries engaging in free trade agreement discussions to adopt TRIPS-plus measures.

He noted that the subject generates “passionate and heated debate” and said “more dispassionate discourse is needed, backed up by strong research, and specifically by African stakeholders.”

Pointing to his country as an example, he said that he believes that “our strong IP regime may have something do with” Nairobi’s draw for multinational companies, which are increasingly basing their African headquarters there.

However, according to a study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) and released 19 March, Kenya’s efforts have not been enough. The report shows that the country’s IPR regime ranks poorly according to international indicators, coming in 95 of 130 countries in the IPR index and 106 of 140 economies in the 2010 Global Competitiveness Index.

Speaking at the workshop, Louis Bonnier, senior policy advisor for ICC-BASCAP, said that Kenya has a “big market for counterfeits” and “improving IPR could bring large benefits”. He also noted that the Kenya study could be replicated in other countries and that they were “looking for partners” to continue the research.

Keeping IP in the Development Context

Another key theme to emerge was that national IP policies should be fit to countries’ specific needs. Saudin Jacob Mwakaje, partner at Nexlaw Advocates in Zimbabwe, said, “We need to get rid of the one-size-fits-all approach to IP in Africa.”

“The social dynamics in Tanzania, for example, are totally different than in the US,” Mwakaje said. “Policies cannot be superimposed.”

“We need to think about IP in its proper context,” he said, keeping in mind WIPO’s Development Agenda and its 45 recommendations.

Other key speakers on the opening day of the CLDP/AIPG workshop included Peter Kiguta, director general of Customs and Trade of the East African Community (EAC); Abdallah Kigoda, Tanzanian minister of industry, trade, and marketing; and Nnamdi Ezera, senior counsel for CLDP.

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Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at

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