Protecting Intellectual Property in Africa: Workshop Report on the Practical Approaches to IP Utilization & Protection in Africa

This is a guest post from the Secretariat of the African IP Group (AIPG).

Recently, Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars joined a program in Tanzania, jointly organized by the United States Department of Commerce and the African IP Group to foster collaboration with and among  artists, creators, innovators, and other IP owners on the African continent. The following guest post by members of the Secretariat of the African IP Group provides a report on the collaboration.  

A first of its kind conference on IP issues in Africa was recently held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The conference co-hosted by the Commercial Law Development Program of the US Department of Commerce (CLDP) and Africa  Intellectual Property Group (AIPG) was opened by Hon.Dr. Abdallah Kigoda (MP), Minister of Industry, Trade, and Marketing, Republic of Tanzania, Mr. Peter Kiguta, Director General of Customs and Trade, East African Community (EAC)  and His Excellency Alfonso E. Lenhardt, the Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

The conference brought together over one hundred and eighty IP practitioners, regulators, policy advisors and stakeholders representing  Nineteen  (19) African countries both Anglophone and francophone and participants  from  across the globe with interest in IP matters in Africa.  Regional institutions including WIPO, ARIPO, OAPI, COMESA and the East African Community (EAC) were represented as well as global industry associations. The participants included academics, artists, entrepreneurs, public officials, enforcement officers, lawyers, and journalists all united by common interest in seeing IP grow in the continent. The quality of the panels and presentations, as well as the energy of the discussions was very high.  In the first instance, the connection between the utilization and protection of intellectual property and African economic development was made, albeit in agreement that there was not a “one size fits all” prescription for Africa.  In different and growing African sectors, from the creative, to manufacturing, and innovation, the workshop facilitated the discussion of the issues, challenges, and approaches posed by counterfeiting, piracy, licensing, digital economy, film, fashion and music, and the commercialization of research and development.

The Conference was unique in two main aspects. To begin with it was the first time a Pan-Africa wide conference that brings both Government institutions and private sector from francophone and Anglophone countries were meeting to deliberate on common approach to IP issues and to share ideas. Secondly the Conference adopted a deliberate afro-centric perspective to IP issues that are important to the needs of the continent such as the role of IP in economic development, commercializing African IP, protection of traditional knowledge and supporting local industries by combating counterfeits. The workshop recognized the  equal importance of IP utilization and protection in Africa and sought to bring from a practitioner’s perspective the workable practical approaches to achieving both. Throughout the three days, a number of practical case studies were showcased. These included the surveillance techniques used by the Police Service in Lusaka Zambia, the business model adopted by Nollywood to claw back the market from pirates, the collaborative approach in Ghana between the Performers’ association and government agencies to an East African Community regional approach to harmonize anti-counterfeiting policy and laws.

Throughout the three day program, participants noted that Africa has substantial IP Assets which are currently underutilized and which merits not only commercialization but also protection on their own right. Workshop presentations from Nigerian, Ghanaian,  and Zimbabwean performing artists, fashion designer Adama Paris, Nollywood producers, Software entrepreneurs such as Sproxil and Allvirtuous, Agricultural and Biotechnology researchers, academics researching on traditional knowledge  all showed the huge pool of IP Assets that the continent has that is currently untapped. All participants were agreed that there is  urgent need to develop new effective economic and business models to unlock the value in these IP assets. The conference also  identified various ways in which IP assets derived from innovation is driving African economic growth. Key services such as Safaricom’s MPESA money transfer service or the global brand Nashuba  Express have exponentially expanded financial services, created thousands of jobs, and widened revenue sources for governments. Similar IP growth in sectors including Agriculture, fashion, film, public sector technology applications, traditional knowledge and sports are already creating jobs, generating revenue and fuelling economic growth throughout the continent.

Institutionalizing Collaboration through AIPG

Noting that Africa currently has many IP institutions, Agencies, institutions,  and Practitioners who need a forum to co-ordinate their activities, views and skills to drive the IP Agenda in Africa  in a manner that furthers the interest of the region, a general meeting of African-based participants on the sidelines of the conference endorsed the establishment of an Africa Intellectual Property Group (AIPG) which had initially been mooted at the 2012 INTA Conference. Participants urged the immediate establishment and operationalization of AIPG to provide a unifying forum to address the increasing incoherence in IP issues amongst African groups and practitioners especially at global forums.

AIPG, the meeting resolved, would be a common platform for both government and private sector to share ideas, strengthen government and industry co-operation and seek common grounds for policy  development to enhance growth of IP in the continent. It will be a forum for IP institutions, IP Owners, Practitioners  and collaborators to share views and expertise, network, and coordinate efforts to develop IP to promote trade, investment and economic growth in the continent by developing common Agenda, Action Plans, Policies and Programs that address practical issue of concern of IP stakeholders and governments in Africa.  It will in particular help to address the  erroneous, though widely held perception that IP Issues are only being driven by international rather than local interests in Africa which assume there is negligible indigenous IP assets in the continent. The main objectives of AIPG identified at the meeting include: a) to promote the development of IP in Africa; b) provide a forum for government and private sector collaborations in IP development in the continent; and c) facilitate debate on development of Policies, regulations and laws that promote IP.

An interim Executive Committee supported by National and Regional champions was mandated to develop a draft Constitution, begin the process of registration and operationalization of the group. Membership of AIPG is to be drawn from National and Regional governmental IP Institutions (and agencies dealing with IP), Industry Associations and Corporate Members, Individual IP Practitioners – including Academics, Lawyers, IP Agents, IP Owners  and Non-governmental organizations with interest on IP.