Intellectual property crucial to Africa’s economic development


The importance of intellectual property in the development of any nation cannot be over-emphasised.

In Africa, this knowledge is still lacking in inventors, innovators and young entrepreneurs, thereby depriving them the benefits of using their intellectual capabilities to invent.

Nigerian expert in intellectual property, Engineer Bindir Umar believes intellectual property is very important to Africa’s economic transformation.

“Intellectual property is the property of the brain, thinking and intellectual capabilities, therefore, it is important to Africa’s economic development,” said Umar.

Accordingly, countries within and across Africa should harness their intellectual properties to translate knowledge into commercial assets.

This will enhance their chances of developing knowledge economies.

World Intellectual Property Organisation Director General, Francis Gurry, says using intellectual property – such as patents, trademarks and copyrights – to support African innovation and identity is an essential mechanism for translating knowledge into commercial assets.

“Intellectual property is an indispensable mechanism for translating knowledge into commercial assets – intellectual property rights create a secure environment for investment in innovation and provide a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets,” said Gurry.

Because of his, investment in knowledge creation and the maintenance of a robust and balanced intellectual property system, should feature prominently in any strategy to ensure sustainable economic growth in countries within and across the African continent.

African governments should, therefore, empower and support inventors, innovators and young entrepreneurs to promote and propagate the use of intellectual property for economic development.

In a crusade to ensure that intellectual property is meaningful to Africans, stakeholders in this critical sector should also work with ministries responsible for science and technology and players in the commerce and industry sectors to promote the popularisation of the culture and utilisation of intellectual property for development.

They should value and protect intellectual property and use it as a mechanism to tackle different social problems.

More so, universities, polytechnic colleges and research institutions in countries within the African continent should have viable intellectual property policies whereby they can encourage and motivate their researchers to come up with inventions that are useful and which can bring in money.

Governments in Africa should, therefore, encourage universities and colleges to make sure that all the research projects from higher diplomas, bachelors, masters to PhDs, and also to individual researches are documented.

For this to be successful, libraries and information resource centres should be used as platforms to document researches.

Also to benefit immensely from intellectual property, African states must engage in intellectual property policy formulation, individually and collectively, through existing regional intellectual property organisations.

Policies should be flexible enough to foster innovation and competition and thereafter incrementally and judiciously increase or strengthen intellectual property systems in the continent.

The calibration of intellectual property system should be based on reliable and credible evidence of the needs or interests of all relevant stakeholders, including creators, users and society.

Meanwhile, developed nations, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) should take the circumstances of African countries and their development needs properly into account when seeking to develop international intellectual property systems.

This is because developed nations always assume that what is good for them is also good for Africa and other developing states.

“Developed countries often proceed on the assumption that what is good for them is likely to be good for developing countries,” said George E Osborne Professor of Law, Stanford University. “But, in the case of developing countries, more and stronger protection is not necessarily better.

Developed nations should not coerce African countries to adopt intellectual property rights that are of no value to their developmental needs.

Osborne puts it thus, “Developing countries should not be encouraged or coerced by developed countries into adopting stronger intellectual property rights without regard to the impact this has on their development.”

They should be allowed to adopt appropriate rights regimes, not necessarily the most protective ones.

The time is now for African countries to embrace intellectual property is an indispensable mechanism for translating knowledge into commercial assets. This is so because intellectual property rights create a secure environment for investment in innovation and provide a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets.

November 2013
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