Thursday, 16 May 2013

IP Policy in Africa: COMESA leads

The Africa IP Forum held in February this year put IP Policy firmly on the agenda for Africa (view the presentations here). Since then, IP Policy has been discussed in Tanzania at the African Conference on the Strategic Importance of IP Policies to Foster Innovation, Value Creation and Competitiveness. Two weeks ago, IP Watch reported that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) had gone beyond discussing policy imperatives to preparing an IP Policy (read the full article here). 

The COMESA member states are Burundi, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Seychelles, Swaziland, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is a significant grouping of African states and any IP initiatives originating from COMESA are noteworthy. Moreso because all the COMESA member states, except Libya, are members of the African Union (AU) where IP has come to the fore in the context of efforts to establish PAIPO. Therefore COMESA's IP Policy is probably a good indicator of what a PAIPO IP Policy might look like. It is also a foretaste of what the COMESA member states' national IP Policies might look like. 

The COMESA IP Policy  (available in full here) is presented in two parts. Part A is entitled ‘COMESA Policy on Intellectual Property Rights’. It emphasizes the link between IP and economic development particularly in relation to promoting innovation in developing countries. It also considers the relationships between IP and trade, the cultural industries, TK, expressions of folklore and ICTs. Such broad coverage is indicative of the appreciation of the cross-cutting nature of IP. What is missing is an express statement of the need to calibrate IP policy and law to the current socio-economic status of COMESA member states. Part B is entitled ‘The COMESA Policy on copyright and copyright related industries’ and focuses on the need ‘to encourage and promote copyright protection for socio-economic development’. Its stated objectives include increasing capacity to commercialise copyright works; creating ‘public awareness on the importance of copyright protection’ and encouraging research on copyright and socio-economic development.  The need to curb piracy and copyright infringement is rightfully mentioned but is not tempered by the mention of the imperative to promote a balanced copyright system that facilitates access to knowledge and learning materials. Such access is essential to the provision of education, which, in turn, contributes significantly to the quality of people’s lives. However, the promotion of research is laudable as the resultant research outputs will provide evidence which can be used in iterative policy and legislative processes. It is heartening to see such concrete attempts to formulate IP Policy in Africa and I hope that Afro-IP readers will read the COMESA policy and comment on it below. 

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