IP - staying competitive

Protect your property
Protect your property

The bricks-and-mortar economy is being replaced with one of ideas in which intellectual property has become a major currency. In the new global economy, wealth is generated through creating and harnessing the value of knowledge and this requires special protection, as Adebambo Adewopo, Professor of Intellectual Property Law, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies explains...

It has become clear that for any country, region, or continent to be actively involved in the global economy, it must be competitive. Competition flows from intellectual capital, which is protected by IP laws. Africa should, therefore, strive to develop its copyright-based industries in the production and distribution of entertainment products, the development of global brands, pharmaceutical, biotech products and other forms of intellectual property, which are the building blocks of the global economy.

Africa should be able to build a strong regional block that will enable it come together not only to develop a strong IP system that will energise economic development, but also to effectively negotiate issues that will enhance its competitiveness and comparative advantage in multilateral treaty negotiations. To achieve this, there is a need to establish a regional organisation in the spirit of the African Union to harmonise administration of intellectual property in Africa in order to ensure foreign investment and, in the same vein, protect African products such as traditional knowledge, genetic resources, folklore, brands and values.

It has been suggested that a single intellectual property system is desirable for Africa. This will be in accordance with the aim of the African Union to establish a common market. While agreeing that a single organisation would be desirable or preferable for Africa, it is more fundamental that the two organisations concentrate on representing up to 50 per cent of African States, including the economic giants of the region. There also appear to be a prevalent pessimism towards harmonisation of the two bodies.

It is proposed that the current co-operation agreement between ARIPO and OAPI should integrate the two systems and extend the protection afforded to member countries under their respective treaties to each other. It is further proposed that the African Union sets up a committee of experts to find out the reasons for the refusal of many African nations to accede to any of these treaties. The committee will have the mandate to advise on how to establish a regional organisation that will take into consideration the differences between the various African States and how to harmonise these.

Interestingly, there is a current renewed effort at strengthening intellectual property administration in Africa and particularly to encourage South Africa and Nigeria to take up membership of ARIPO. It is, however, hoped that these efforts be coordinated under the broad agenda of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which is the main economic agenda of the African Union. This will properly situate the efforts to build a strong intellectual property system as an economic imperative; it may also help to remove those cultural and political differences hindering harmonisation of intellectual property administration. In this way the continent could have a united IP organisation that protects the rights and diverse cultural heritage peculiar to the African continent.