Friday 14 March 2014

Darren Olivier

South Africa: Activists march on Parliament to call for changes to IP legislation

Trying to attract any attention away from the Oscar trial is a tall order. But activists pushing through reforms to intellectual property laws in South Africa before elections are doing their utmost.

Business Day Live reports that the Treatment for Action Campaign and others marched on the Parliament yesterday calling for changes that would create a substantive examination system for patents and, in that way, increase access to life saving drugs. You can read and view the report here.

The TAC's website contains a slightly more realistic call - to agree the IP Policy before the elections due to take place in a few months time.

Despite the government's apparent support for such a move in their draft IP Policy, which includes provisions for substantive examination, this document is only a policy document and is not legislation. For government to assess the full impact of changes to legislation by introducing substantive examination, it will take time and requires thorough analysis. This cannot be done before the election, at least not without considerable consultation and debate. Even the IP Policy document should only contemplate such a process.

Critics (search "IP Policy - notes" on this blog for more information) are claiming that there is no tangible evidence to indicate that it will increase access to drugs, that it may deter investment in drugs for the continent and/or scupper incentives for local drug manufacturing and R&D. But perhaps more concerning is that South Africa simply does not have the capacity to do the substantive examination (and there is no clear solution at the moment, even if it is outsourced). The trade mark system, for example, which has all the bells and whistles of a thorough system and which is arguably easier to implement than a complete patent examination system, has ground to a halt in South Africa because of lack of capacity; a substantial backlog of oppositions now has to be heard by over burdened courts which lack sufficient expertise at lower levels to deal with nuances related to trade marks. This is because the CIPC (the same commission that oversees patent applications) does not have sufficient capacity.

South Africa cannot implement a substantive examination system until it has, at least, sorted out its capacity problems, something which the draft IP Policy does also recognise.

Darren Olivier

Darren Olivier

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14 March 2014 at 13:49 delete

"South Africa simply does not have the capacity to do the substantive examination (and there is no clear solution at the moment, even if it is outsourced)"

That snickering sound you hear is Kenyans, laughing because Kenya has a functioning examination system. Perhaps SA can outsource examination to Kenya?