Intellectual Property in Africa

Intellectual Property was a major theme in the just concluded UN Conference ‘Science with Africa’ held during 23-25 June 2010 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. IP is assuming an important position in today’s discussion on social economic development even in Africa where ‘science, technology and innovation’ is just beginning to be embraced. The highest number of submission of patent applications by South Africa as 390 and by Egypt as 41 in the year 2007 as against the same in Republic of Korea and China as 7061 and 5456 respectively were the highlights of IP theme bringing forth the following questions to be probed in:

  • What is the status of the Africa continent in embracing IP?
  • Is there any recognition of the importance of IP in Africa’s social economic development?
  • What is the perception of African’s on IP?
  • How is awareness creation of IP and particularly patent regime in the continent’s academic and research institutions?

Clearly some of the major problems in acquiring patents within the continent of Africa have been lack of awareness of the operations of the patent regime coupled with difficulties related to financial provision for patent acquisition and maintenance.

Several initiatives have been taken during the last decade in Africa to promote creation, protection and exploitation of IP in the developmental process of a number of countries; an IDRC supported programme mapped the utilization of IP in research and development in 3 African countries, viz., Botswana, Cameroon and Tanzania. This study reveals that there is a significantly low level of awareness of IP among researchers, technology developers, industry and the public at large, as a result of which there is:

  • Low level of protection of IP of whatever little technology development and innovation work gets carried out in this region
  • Low level of IP exploitation in terms of using Patent Information leading to duplication of research efforts and improper utilization of available research resources in African countries.

The Panel on ‘Innovation and IPRs’ in this conference included eminent personalities from Uganda, Nigeria, and Madagascar connected with ‘intellectual property’ and ‘technology transfer’ along with founder of TECHNOLOGY-PATENT.COM from India. The panel was chaired by the Director General of ARIPO. The main objectives of the panel were:

  • Examine the extent to which the patent systems promote innovation and technology transfer in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Identify reasons for the relative failure of the system in playing the alleged positive role in a number of African countries
  • Recommend ways in which the Africa patent systems could be enhanced to facilitate innovation, technology transfer and industrial development

Speaking on ‘Protecting Bio Assets and Strengthening Framework for Agri-biotech Patents’, the founder of TECHNOLOGY-PATENT.COM, emphasized that African countries need to focus on initiating research programmes aimed at:

  • Transgenic crops that are of specific value to the region, e.g., cassava
  • Developing commercial crops of essential oils and their processing technologies
  • Search for bio-active molecules from indigenous plant sources based on traditional and folklore medicine
  • Food processing technologies with due emphasis on entrepreneurship and patent registration of unique and distinctive products and processes

The power point presentation on the subject made by the founder of TECHNOLOGY-PATENT.COM can be seen here.

The conference noted that the bio-resource potential of Africa indicate approximately 40,000 to 60,000 plant species. Of the currently commonly used 6,400 plant species, about 4,000 species are medicinal plant species. It was observed that proper bio-safety norms as well as legal frameworks for regulating biological and genetic resources as well as indigenous knowledge are yet to be established in many countries in Africa. As a result available bio-assets are not being developed indigenously for commercial use and are subject of rampant bio-piracy.

The conference also noted the fragmented nature and low level of support as well as the inadequate investment in R&D as well as inadequate national IP policies in many African countries.

In view of the above observations, the conference came out, among other things, with the following recommendations:

  • Setting up of Biosafety Authorities
  • Establish national records of innovations and inventions (database)
  • Establish National Intellectual Property (IP) policy in each of the African county by 2015
  • Create enabling environment to raise awareness about “intellectual property” and strengthen national capability for handling intellectual property applications through search and examination