Intellectual property (IP) rights establish a secure legal framework for investment in and the commercialization of innovation and creativity, enabling firms, including innovative start-ups, to navigate the perilous process of transforming an idea into a commercially viable product and to compete successfully in the global marketplace while safeguarding the public interest. As such, IP is a key factor in creating an environment in which innovation and creativity can flourish and generate future growth and prosperity.
Over the years, the main IP focus in Africa has been to establish and develop basic IP infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, capacity building and human capital. The goal now is to put these IP tools to work in support of the economic objectives of African economies. Africa has a great tradition of innovation and creativity and has extraordinary creative resources but has often struggled to realize its full economic potential.
Towards a Solution
With the support of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a master’s degree programme has been designed and planned through the joint efforts of the Africa University (AU), the African Regional IP Office (ARIPO) and other experts, academics and students from the region to create a network of expertise in IP within academia and government and among private stakeholders.
The objective of the initiative is to enable the African region, and particularly the sub- Saharan region, to further develop local capacities and skills to effectively use IP as a tool for social, economic, cultural and technological development. In addition, the efficient use and commercialization of IP assets in Africa rely on the further growth of the pool of IP experts with the necessary knowledge and skills to boost Africa’s progress.
The objectives of WIPO initiatives on capacity-building are based on the WIPO Development Agenda and the SDGs. These seek to develop a balanced IP system that reflects, in a holistic manner, the inclusion of development policies inspired by the experiences of regional experts and based on the capacity of sharing the experiences as developed and acquired in the global South.
The WIPO initiatives are always designed to ensure that the training courses supported in the context of South-South cooperation (SSC) meet the development needs and expectations of the Member States.
Since ARIPO is focused on strengthening the capacity-building activities for its Member States, the IP master’s degree became one of its programme priorities. In addition, in 2010, the Government of Japan acknowledged that the initiative was a strategic priority for Africa and expressed its intention to join the undertaking through financial assistance for students and professors.
The project includes an IP curriculum designed specifically for students in African countries. The programme uses the facilities of an African university and most of the professors come from the region. WIPO facilitates some distance learning modules, supervised by African tutors, to reduce the time and cost of face- to-face training.
The programme contributes to strengthening human resources in the area of IP, focusing on international conventions and the use of IP for economic growth and cultural and educational development, taking into account the regional levels of development and in direct relation to SDG 17.9.
The group of students comprises university lecturers, lawyers, technology graduate students and IP specialists from the public or private sector. This creates a large and diverse network of individuals knowledgeable in IP who will be able to provide advice on policy decisions and debates in areas related to the use of IP in technology and innovation in the global South, such as health, agriculture, IT technologies, education, culture and the environment.
Many of the trainees who have obtained this degree hold relevant positions through which they contribute to the IP infrastructure in their respective countries, whether as an IP office employee, government official, university employee or policymaker. The main goal of the initiative is to create a critical mass of graduates who are IP-savvy, striving to apply their knowledge for economic development and mindful of the means to reach it.
The practice was innovative as it brought together local/regional resources and institutions to develop and run a post-graduate degree programme in a field as specialized as IP. In the past, this kind of programme was not offered in developing countries with the use of Southern expertise and did not focus on the development needs of Southern countries. By contrast, this programme tailors education programmes to meet the needs and expectations of the beneficiary countries for a much lower financial cost, which results in a larger and better-prepared group of beneficiary Member States from developing countries.
The possibility of replicating this WIPO practice depends on the initiative from developing country WIPO Member States, which may identify this undertaking as a strategic priority. In fact, with the support of WIPO, the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) and the Government of Japan are organizing an IP master’s degree at the Yaoundé II University of Cameroon for French- speaking students from Africa. Following the same design, in 2013 an IP master’s degree was launched in Argentina for the Latin American countries, with the participation of a national university and the National IP Office of Argentina.
This initiative is considered sustainable since the demand for such projects is growing significantly every year, given that governments have recognized the vital role of the IP system and the full economic potential that it can offer. In addition, and as stated, graduates serve in various institutions and contribute to their country’s policy in major areas (e.g. in policymaking and judicial matters). Consequently, by applying and sharing their know-how, they contribute to the development of IP.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 4.3, 4.4, 4.b, 4.c, 9.2, 9.5, 9.a, 9.c, 17.9
Countries/ territories involved: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe
Supported by: WIPO/ African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) /Found-in- Trust Government of Japan
Implementing entities: WIPO Academy/Africa University (Mutare, Zimbabwe)
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 2009-Present
URL of the practice: goo.gl/db1e3J; goo.gl/c1Rfms; goo.gl/4xRjWw
Name: Ms. Martha Chikowore, WIPO
Email: Martha.Chikowore@ wipo.int