Africa: 'Limited Awareness a Reason for IP Stagnation in Africa'

-- ARIPO Director General says progress is being made to change the narrative

The Director General for the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), Fernando dos Santos, has said limited awareness about Intellectual Property (IP) among its member states is hampering the full utilization of IP in Africa.

Mr dos Santos added that due to the situation, academicians and entrepreneurs across the continent are still underestimating the contribution which IP can provide to their efforts by adding value and facilitating commercialization of their ideas.

According to Mr dos Santos, the situation has become so severe that policy-makers are yet to leverage the power of IP, placing it at the center of the economic systems in their respective countries

"Africa aims at building an innovation-led and knowledge-based economy, and IP is the main engine to that end. Regrettably, lack of awareness on the important role that intellectual property plays to promoting development is hindering its use. There are many innovative ideas in Africa, but the same are not translated into IP assets--a situation which makes the continent to be trailing behind other continents concerning the uptake of IP.

"Some reputable sources such as the Global Innovation Index and World Intellectual Property Indicators revealed that there is some sort of stagnation in the IP performance of the continent. Although some individual cases show a positive trend, in general, the growth recorded are not exponential as in the case of Asia. To illustrate, it can be highlighted that for many years, the contribution of Africa to world patent applications has been stagnantly ranging from 0.5% to 0.8%," he said.

Mr. dos Santos made these remarks in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer ahead of the ARIPO 43rd Administrative and 17th Ministerial Councils sessions, scheduled to take place from November 18 -22, 2019, at the Farmington Hotel, in Margibi County.

The ARIPO boss added that by neglecting the use of IP, Africa is not adding value to its natural resources, development output and research.

Mr. dos Santos further explained that in today's hyper-connected world, innovation is judged by intellectual assets and, if same are not turned into IP assets which are properly valued and commercialized, the continent will continue to trail behind the others.

"The loss is not only in terms of the numbers that are small but also in concrete terms because if this scenario continues, it will implicate the continent as a backward territory where more innovative companies are reluctant to invest. This calls governments to create an enabling environment for innovation to thrive, and this includes promoting the use of the intellectual property system," he added.

In a bid to address the situation, dos Santos noted that ARIPO has deployed a multi-faceted approach to continue raising awareness among policy-makers about the importance of utilizing IP for national development.

Mr. dos Santos noted that ARIPO has collaborated with three universities in Zimbabwe, Ghana and Tanzania, to deliver a Master in IP (MIP) program.

The program, according to dos Santos, is not only available to member states but all countries in Africa.

"ARIPO and WIPO support these programs with a lot of financial resources by way of scholarships as well as teaching expertise and other materials. From 2008 to date, the MIP program in Zimbabwe has produced 325 MIP graduates from 26 African countries, with an equal number of research outputs in various IP rights. We have also intensified our Roving Seminars, which we deliver to member states under a relevant theme selected depending on the present exigencies.

"In 2018 alone, we conducted Roving Seminars in five countries, which were attended by 450 participants. We also delivered customized IP training on demand to various entities including SMEs," dos Santos said.

According to him, the launch of the roving seminars has enhanced the visibility of lots of national offices and raised awareness about its importance, as some nationals did not even know about the existence of the IP office in order to raise awareness of the IP subject in different areas.

"With regards to patents, we have two flagship programs being the annual patent drafting course co-delivered with WIPO as well as the ARIPO Regional Patent Examination Training (ARPET). The patent drafting course has produced 170 participants who are mostly lawyers, researchers, scientists and engineers. These are just some of the most successful initiatives," dos Santos said.

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