New Rwanda IP Policy Taps Information For Development 08/06/2010 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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)“Information is the lifeblood of development,” says the government of Rwanda in a recently-adopted intellectual property policy, part of the country’s comprehensive development strategy. The new policy attempts to integrate Rwanda into the international IP system while simultaneously safeguarding the freedom it needs to drive its own innovation system. There are several specific characteristics of Rwanda’s innovation system that needed to be addressed with the formulation of the law, says the text of the new Rwandan intellectual property policy, available here [doc]. The policy provides the rationale, objectives and context for Rwanda’s adoption of new policy for IP rights. The country also passed a new IP law. A copy of the IP law text is now available here [pdf], in Rwanda’s three major languages. [Note: a copy of the law first appeared on the Afro-IP blog, here.] These characteristics include: few resources dedicated to innovation, a “system dominated by minor and/or incremental innovations,” small firms not always stable over the long-term needed for research and development, reliance on informal practices and government support rather than the private sector, and outside dominance of key innovation sectors. The goal with the new intellectual property policy, then, was to stimulate local investment. It is a “future-oriented” policy, Christoph Spennemann of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in an interview with Intellectual Property Watch. UNCTAD provided technical assistance to Rwanda in the drafting of the new policy, as did the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). And today, Rwanda submitted to the World Trade Organization its priority needs for technical and financial cooperation. Least developed countries have been invited to do this in the lead-up to their deadline for implementing the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), currently set for 2013. Sierra Leone, Uganda and Bangladesh have previously submitted such needs assessments to the TRIPS Council. The new policy focuses on making use of key resources, access to technologies for local innovators, rewards for the kind of incremental innovation that is most prevalent in the nation, and long-term sustainability. It has six major policy objectives. It aims to increase technological literacy and skills; promote innovation, including incremental innovation; and increase access to existing technologies; increase access to IP-based goods and services, especially those related to agriculture and health, and including through the use of IP system flexibilities. It also will facilitate investment in creative activities, including through effective use of IP rights to ensure compensation to inventors and the elimination of unfair competition; and increase the protection of traditional knowledge and equitable and fair access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing. The development of a special law on traditional knowledge and genetic resources is mandated by the IP law, according to the law. Consultations with national stakeholders and experts are planned to help draft this special law. History The process of drafting the policy began with requests for technical assistance from the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry – which handles the country’s IP law – to UNCTAD and to the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. At a stakeholder meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda in September 2008, it became clear that traditional knowledge, folklore and handicrafts were considered important areas for the IP policy. UNCTAD and ICTSD then undertook a fact-finding mission, culminating in a national workshop [pdf] on a needs assessment prepared by UNCTAD and ICTSD and on a draft IP policy for the country. This took place in March 2009. On 24 March 2010, the draft policy was approved by the Rwandan Cabinet. UNCTAD and ICTSD are also carrying out similar technical assistance programmes in Uganda and Cambodia. Implementing the New Law The first stage in implementing the new policy is the creation of a Rwanda Development and Intellectual Property Forum, a collaboration of government ministries, universities and research institutions with the private sector and non-governmental groups. Other aspects of implementation will follow from there, according to a timeline appended to the policy. There are several unique aspects of Rwanda’s IP policy. One way to incentivise incremental innovation detailed in the law is through the use of “petty patents” or “utility model certificates.” These provide for a shorter exclusivity period and do not have the requirement (or have a very low threshold requirement) for ‘inventive step’ that is normally a critical part of a patent application, the UNCTAD intellectual property team explained to Intellectual Property Watch. Utility model certificates also tend to be registered rather than examined, making them useful in a system where there are few patent examiners, they said. These utility models “may provide the most important avenue for using IP to support development,” says the IP policy. Pharmaceutical products will be exempt from patentability at least until 2016, to take advantage of the flexibilities in TRIPS for least developed countries. Research exemptions are also given, to both public and private sector institutions for both public and commercial use. Educational institutions and libraries are given exceptions in copyright to make copies for archiving and teaching purposes. Free reproduction is also allowed when a work is specifically intended for translation into an accessible format for visually impaired people. Even with its new IP law in place, Rwanda plans not to build its examination capacity but rather to join the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and make use of its examination, according to the policy document. The new policy also reflects thought on how best to incentivise technology transfer in a least developed country context. Low-income countries “are simply not players in the transfer of technology by licensing,” says the policy, citing a statistic that 96.7 percent of royalty flows related to technology licensing happen in high-income countries, with the remainder happening mostly in middle income countries. Foreign direct investment is therefore potentially a better way for technology to move into low income countries, the policy says. But here, too, investments have been declining in recent years in Sub-Saharan Africa, the policy says. Rwanda intends to be “at the vanguard of reversing this trend and ensuring that together with FDI comes technology.” On IP enforcement, the new policy takes seriously three principles from TRIPS: that IP rights are private and it is not the responsibility of the state to enforce them (but rather to provide the means through which private entities may do so); that national differences should be accounted for in implementing TRIPS; and that treaties should be interpreted in a way that is loyal to their object and purpose. In the case of TRIPS, this purpose and objective is to “contribute to technological innovation [and] the transfer and dissemination of technology.” Enforcement measures, says the policy, “applied reasonably and in a balanced way, have benefits for local inventors, innovators and creative communities.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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) Related Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com."New Rwanda IP Policy Taps Information For Development" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.