Thursday, 23 January 2014

What happened to Recommendation 5 of the Gowers Review? -- A Commentary

So, what does this Leo think about recommendation 5 of the Gowers Review?

First, he is not really sure if the UK Government expressly accepted it or whether it was one of those proposals where a position is not taken but something is done here and there when possible. Secondly, it was not that exciting: the first limb is a given, while the second limb is unconvincing. Further, "helping them to take advantage....." and "encouraging them to make positive use" are two phrases which, respectfully put, can easily be satisfied by running IP seminars.

Fully or partially funding an ICT infrastructure, e.g. a database-enabled website which can be used in disseminating information in patents, could have been much more tangible and exciting. (Ambitious indeed; remember that there are 54 countries, says Afro Leo) This Leo suggests so because it would not surprise him that most (if not all) IP offices, IPRs owners and practitioners across Africa - where there is considerable amount of IP work - would prefer to substitute the difficulties of storage rooms and piles of paper for a versatile database-enabled website. Well, that is easier said than done, for various reasons. (If the UK has some funds for that sort of project, Afro Leo would suggest ARIPO and OAPI as candidates - although too late, the former would be favourite).

The difficulty
WIPO plays the key role in the grand scheme of things but bilateral IP technical assistance has never been an easy and straightforward subject-matter. (Afro Leo tells me that WIPO would be delighted to see developed-country WTO members do more bilaterally). We all can easily agree that IP technical assistance is the last thing on the minds of the UK Government and its African counterparts when contemplating on how to spend scarce development funds. Also, since the European Union (EU) generally takes center stage in development activities (including within WIPO) on behalf of its member states, it is difficult to criticise (in whatever form) the UK Government - who contributes to the EU and multilateral entities for development efforts across the globe.

An impact assessment on IP technical assistance in 2011 tells us that such assistance should not be seen or offered as a one size fits all: one country may require assistance with drafting IP legislation, and another in need of financial assistance to fund an ICT project for its IP office. (Isn't it the case that developing and least developing countries would have to specifically request for technical assistance; or do they just accept the affordable thing on offer? Afro Leo asks). Anyway, it is not that the UK was that eager to lead the pack before now or has become enthusiastic all of a sudden on IP technical assistance; but, the risk of not keeping up leaves notable economies such as BrazilSouth Korea and Japan to quietly take on the mantle of leadership in this area. (Afro Leo tells me that the UK Government takes foreign aid seriously and is proud of it).

Conclusion
To cut the long opinion short, recommendation 5 was never groundbreaking; nevertheless, the UK's efforts are commendable. As the last sentence of the UK IPO's response highlights, this Leo expects the sort of IP technical assistance activities we have seen thus far from the UK to continue without a reminder from a future IP law review. They may well come in various forms and from different entities such as the Department for International Development (DFID). Considering the exciting news from ARIPO on its ICT project, the UK may well look towards future assistance in this much needed area.

Ultimately, it is time for African countries (with South Africa expected to spearhead) to also consider looking inwards for IP technical assistance. By the way, Afro Leo wants to know what happened to Nigeria's own copyright review.

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To read more about the Ethiopia Trademarking and Licensing Project (with Light Years IP), click here
The Light Years IP's report (supported by DfID) into the export of African agricultural products, see here
To see how UK aid is distributed, see here and here
BRICS launch their own IP plan, see here
See if you can find anything on Nigeria's copyright review hereherehere and here

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