Africa Intellectual Property

With the introduction of the World Trade Organization and the agreements administered by it, the need in developing countries in general and Africa in particular for the introduction of intellectual property legislations and enforcement mechanisms has become urgent. Legislations and enforcement mechanisms are put in place through out the continent partly out of economic necessities and partly to fulfil treaty obligations.

The creation and commercialization of Intellectual Property (IP) and the protection of IP rights (IPRs) have assumed increasingly profound and unprecedented influence on the social, economic and technological progress and have created interdependent economies and communities across the world. This process has allowed the emergence of a knowledge-based economy. In the knowledge-based economy, technology is a key factor of competitiveness for companies and sustainable development for countries. A vast majority of technologies are generated, utilized and patented in developed countries.  Technological progress in developing countries in general and African countries in particular is mainly dependent on transfer of technologies from developed countries. Technologies flow internationally through different channels such as foreign direct investments, licensing, and flow of capital goods. Despite the fact that developing countries belong to the category of recipient countries in some aspects of IPRs (mainly patented technologies), they also have a growing industry, which depends on a well functioning IP protection system, a case in point is the music industry. In order for developing countries to benefit from both aspects (receiving and producing IP protected technologies and products), the level of awareness and enforcement of IPRs has to grow significantly. This calls for creating and strengthening the proper enabling framework. The availability of legislations which address protection of IPRs, the availability of institutions which administer and enforce these rights, and IP awareness among users, right holders, law enforcement authorities, and policy makers are part of the proper enabling framework.


The availability of all these institutions in African countries is minimal. If they exist at all, their impact on the society is not noticeable. In terms of IP legislations, despite concerted effort to improve the situation, quite a number of countries on the continent have not yet issued laws which cover all aspects of IP. In those instances where legislations are already in place, their conformity with international obligations is often questionable.


In terms of administrative agencies, there are quite a number of agencies on the continent which have IP related task as part of their job. Even within countries there are different IP administration agencies with no clear cut mission. This has led, among other things, to duplication of efforts and resource wastage. Among the various institutions which are active in the area, customs, police, public prosecutor office and courts are few. The problem with these agencies in many cases is that they are filled with experts who have either no training or have very minimal training on IP. This is mainly due to the fact that IP was not included in the curriculum of various training institutions till recently. In those institutions which have introduced IP in their curriculum, there is no institutional arrangement to research the impact of a strong IP protection would have on the economic development of a nation.


Apart from the problems discussed herein above trade in counterfeited or pirated products is becoming a major problem in the developing world as well. For example in Ethiopia trade with counterfeited copyright products has recently reached a level which made the existence of the music industry at risk. This had forced the music industry to boycott production of copyright products several times in the past before the government embarked on a concerted effort to address the problem.


Apart from the points raised herein above, nations in the south in general and Africa in particular have treaty obligations to fulfil. 


All these issues have to be studied and properly addressed. Hence, the need for a forum!