Friday, 10 September 2010

African Highlights from Access to Knowledge A Guide for Everyone

The 1709 Blog has a post giving an overview of the 2nd Edition of Access to Knowledge A Guide for Everyone (large pdf file), but Afro-Leo wanted to make special mention here of a number of portions of the book specifically highlighting Africa.

Anti-Counterfeiting in East Africa

The book discusses the EAC Anti-Counterfeits Bill, Uganda’s Counterfeit Goods Bill and Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Act of 2008 in terms of the Millennium Development Goals,

“East African countries were facing the risk not attaining the millennium development goal (MDG) on universal treatment of people living withHIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases if the region’s parliaments adopted the anti-counterfeits policy and bill under consideration in the region, the IPS report also noted.”

Afro-Leo recommends reading the excellent coverage by fellow Lions on Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Bill with follow-up.

Internet Access

Intellectual property laws are not the only barrier to accessing knowledge.  When resources are legally available but physically unattainable, they knowledge remains as inaccessible.  In relation to this, the book discusses the recent improvements in internet access across the continent (p. 110).  But, as the book points out, internet without opportunities to access it or an understanding of how to use it is useless.  The Kenya Education Network Trust is given as an example of good institutional support for use of the internet, and promoting information and communication technologies. [Another source, Technology Times reports that Nigeria is also working nationally on this issue, potentially appointing a Minister of ICT.

In addition to national programs like the one in Kenya, many people in African countries also have the opportunity to learn about and use the internet through the large number of non-governmental organizations operating across the continent.  As connection points and knowledge about how to utilize the internet increase, the cost of computers are decreasing, resulting in more opportunities for people to actually use the internet on a regular basis.

New Types of Patents

The book address three types of patents with distinct ramifications for Africa and other parts of the developing world: pharmaceutical patents (p. 51), agricultural patents (p. 53), and biopiracy-based patents (p. 55).  Most people following intellectual property issues in Africa are familiar with the debates around pharmaceutical patents: Preventable diseases go untreated because patented medicines are expensive, but if drug developers aren’t rewarded with patent rights, will they make the huge investments required to discover new breakthroughs.  The book discusses the history of patents and phrama and puts for some alternative systems.

“One view on the abuse of pharmaceutical patents is that perhaps patents were the wrong mechanism for funding pharmaceutical production all along.”

Agricultural patents, like pharmaceutical patents, deal with an important component of daily survival, food security.  As new types of seeds are patented, seeds that produce sterile plants, farmers are faced with the possibility of having to pay large amounts of money for seeds they used to just keep from the previous year’s harvest.  Although most African farmers still save their seeds and replant, these countries may move closer to the industrialized country model of planting sterile-plant seeds as companies develop seeds specifically for the various unique growing conditions across Africa.

Biopiracy-based patents are patents generally obtained by companies in industrialized countries who have ‘discovered’ some new compound or plant that a local community has been using for a very long time.  This is an area that overlaps greatly with Traditional Knowledge and Genetic Resources.  While the book acknowledges this as a problem - “The failure to address issues related to traditional knowledge and bioresources even whilst ratcheting upward the protection granted to new inventions doubly jeopardises developing countries.” – this is one place where there’s no potential solutions offered.

Broader Level Points

Other areas of the text that may be of interest with respect to Africa (page numbers or of the pdf, not the printed numbers on the page):

  • Background discussion of the Doha Declaration and Development Agenda, p.23.
  • Libraries as players in Access to Knowledge, with mention of Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, p. 28
  • Academia as a player in Access to Knowledge, with mention of the Wits University LINK Centre in South Africa, p. 29
  • Section 2.1.1 Copyright law and developing countries, p. 41
  • The United State’s Special 301 Report’s effect on developing countries, p. 63
  • Open Access activities in developing countries, p. 78
  • Electronic libraries in developing countries, p. 76

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