Knowledge Access Blooms In The Desert: Egypt’s Fragile Stake In IP11/02/2010 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 7 CommentsShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.CAIRO – The launch this week on the new campus of American University in Cairo of a new centre and a new book on access to knowledge in Egypt offered a view of the complexities of the issues and the challenges developing countries face to ensure global intellectual property rights are incorporated into their legal systems in the most locally productive ways possible. The event marked the launch of the new Access to Knowledge for Development Center on the sparkling, windswept two-year-old (and still under construction) new campus of the university, which moved out of the clogged and smoggy city centre to the remote but rapidly growing desert city of New Cairo. And the centre’s launch came as part of the weeklong festivities around the university’s newly reconfigured business school and school of global affairs and public policy. Preliminary information on the centre is available here.At a 7 February event marking the book, “Access to Knowledge in Egypt: New Research on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Development,” edited by Nagla Rizk and Lea Shaver, a panel of speakers addressed IP issues in Egypt. Rizk is an associate professor of economics at the American University in Cairo and Shaver is an associate research scholar and lecturer in law at Yale Law School. The Yale Information Society Project is holding a separate event on 12-13 February on access to knowledge and human rights.Rizk told the event the centre will focus on access to knowledge looking at the production and development of knowledge, and the decentralisation of innovation, promoting human freedom. A2K is a “critique of the IP paradigm,” she said. The new centre will encourage research that looks at developmental aspects of knowledge, and is a regional centre, with work already begun in Egypt. The centre welcomes partners, researchers and puts an emphasis on the multidisciplinary aspect.Sherif Kamel, dean of the new School of Business, told the event the launch of the A2K Center “couldn’t come at a more timely moment” and that it fits with the country’s economy and the mission of the school.In his chapter of the book, Ahmed Abdel Latif of the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and a former Egyptian IP negotiator (who was not at the event) captured the efforts of Egypt and many developing countries to contend with the unceasing pressures, challenges and opportunities presented by the richer countries. He chronicles Egypt’s participation in the leading access to knowledge-related policy events of recent decades.Giving Up Biodiversity with Ever-Stronger IP StandardsMeanwhile, a new IP policy being drafted in Egypt is an example of how the country is confronted with the challenge of living up to commitments it makes in negotiations with rich countries while trying to look after its own interests. Many government agencies have a role in the drafting, however, so it may take some time, according to sources. The government established a committee to work on the issue.According to an extensive analysis of Egyptian intellectual property law in the 2009 International Encyclopedia of Laws published by Kluwer Law International, Egypt is currently ratcheting up its IP protection through free trade agreements with European countries. Egypt in 2002 updated its IP law in order to comply with the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). And now it is updating again to conform to terms of bilateral deals with Europe.For instance, Egypt must lift the longstanding safeguard it had on its own genetic resources in order to comply with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), even though Egypt is not a member of UPOV. UPOV is housed in the World Intellectual Property Organization headquarters in Geneva.By agreeing to free trade agreements with the European Union (the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement Establishing an Association between the European Communities and Their Member States) and separately in 2007, the European Free Trade Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), Egypt agreed to make changes to its IP law, in favour of rights holders. This includes a number of measures reaching beyond TRIPS.Egypt also must remove an exception in law that allowed farmers to freely exchange, save, and resow propagating material. The chapter in the Kluwer series by Egyptian lawyer Hossam El-Saghir notes that under UPOV Article 15(2) there is a narrow possible restriction by contract of the breeder’s right to any variety in order to permit farmers to re-use their own harvested product on their own land. But any scientific or commercial research or other use must have the breeder’s authorisation.In addition, UPOV 1991 changes Egyptian law on exhaustion of rights so that now the rights holder retains his rights until he agrees to sell or market the plant variety, instead of as in the past where the rights were exhausted after the protected plant variety was transferred in any way.[Updated] Hossam El-Saghir has co-authored a paper entitled, “Plant Varieties, Biodiversity and Developing Countries,” available here [doc].Access to MedicinesAt the A2K Centre event, Rebecca Wright, a human rights lawyer who co-authored with Hossam Baghat a chapter in the new book on human rights and access to medicines, said the Egyptian government has managed to encourage generic drugs (including domestic production) and kept prices low, including through a national drug pricing committee and subsidies. However, it is facing strong external pressures to bring prices up and limit generics. In September 2009, it adopted a pricing formula tying Egyptian drug prices to a set of other markets worldwide.The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights filed an urgent lawsuit (no. 64/2457) with the Court of Administrative Justice seeking the suspension of the Minister of Health decree that went into effect on 25 September, according to an EIPR Question and Answer document about the pricing decree, available here. EIPR said the decree will undermine citizens’ right to have access to medicines and makes Egyptian drug prices dependent on global market forces.Wright suggested Egypt could take steps such as explicitly stating the primacy of the right to health for its citizens, as human rights law dictates that a nation ensure the protection of basic rights of people within its borders, including the right to health and access to medicines.The country needs coherent policy, and to train judges on the human rights and public policy concerns in IP matters, for instance for cases in Egypt involving pharmaceutical companies. Egypt also could benefit from a stronger civil society and greater transparency in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, she said.Open Source, Competition Policy, and Citizen MediaAhmad Gharbeia, an open source and open content-advocating ICT consultant and practitioner [corrected], discussed open source software and said Egypt “has yet to see public policy pushing the use of open source software in publicly funded projects.” The Egyptian government is a large spender on information and communications technologies, but in recent years investments in IT skills have been mostly overtaken by proprietary technologies and large companies. Gharbeia also is an online community manager at AlMasry Alyoum (Egyptian Today) newspaper. Almasryalyoum.com had a story on the A2K event in its English edition here.AlMasry Alyoum, a leading independent (non-government-run) newspaper, has recently launched a platform for anyone, bloggers and others, to post stories and opinions online. It is one of the first efforts in Egypt to fuse the recent years’ successful blogger movement with a traditional media format, sources said.In another development, the first draft ports for the new Egyptian Creative Commons licence, allowing the licences to be written in local legal language, were published this month, another source said.Another contributor to the book, lawyer Dina Waked, said developing countries need to think about what intellectual property rights are important for them to protect, and focus on ways to ensure not only big firms are able to innovate and develop. She suggested that developing countries look at the power they can give their competition laws, which can help to control IP laws from outside that can prevent access to critical information. “The tension will continue to be there in software, medicines, technology,” she said. The question is to what extent countries are willing to take the necessary steps.Most developing countries such as those in the Arab region have already taken steps with the guidance and push from northern economies to adopt strong IP measures. In general, Waked said later, “developing countries are in a phase where they can’t get out without looking at other alternatives.”Another speaker added that it is “perhaps time to rethink those ideas.”Separately, Rizk also mentioned the rising importance of climate change efforts and asking where does IP infrastructure fit with those efforts.Other chapters in the book work through policy issues and business models in the Egyptian music industry, open source and propriety software industry, as well as information and communications technologies for development.Also in the audience of the event, Maha Bakhiet Zaki, head of the Intellectual Property Unit at the League of Arab States, said the organisation gives political support for countries’ IP policies.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedWilliam New may be reached at email@example.com."Knowledge Access Blooms In The Desert: Egypt’s Fragile Stake In IP" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.