I have been digesting the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index and a host of other data-sets that look at Africa’s current position and I feel validated in many ways on my call for the support and reinforcement of intellectual property institutions across Africa. As Kenya and many other African nations gun for a knowledge based economy, the inherent economic value can only be fully and truly realized once we protect the intellectual property in what is a sharing economy.
While we have runaway success by way of multinational brands, Africa doesn’t have – in my opinion, what we can boast of as truly global brands. With a burgeoning and very creative youthful population, the key to growing entrepreneurs who will deploy the next innovative technologies and create jobs at an international scale is to give our institutions both a bark and a bite. The global village equals global competition, which means it is not only the guy next door who could monetize entire concepts or “borrow” certain elements but a whole army of international idea trolls, scouting for the next big orphaned idea.
There are currently 16 African states that are members of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, born out of the Lusaka Agreement and open to state members of the African Union. The rights covered are patents, industrial designs, utility models, copyright, traditional knowledge and trademarks. ARIPO is complementary to member states national industrial property systems and could therefore be said to be as strong as its weakest links; which to me are differentiated fee structures and non-standard compliance and enforcement.
We should actively apply ourselves towards ensuring ARIPO meets its main objectives of harmonizing IP laws among member states, centrally handling grant and registration of IP rights and most importantly effective compliance and representation. A lot more awareness must be created on what is already in place and where we could improve especially so on the information and data exchange platform to seal loopholes and ensure homogeneity with similar systems successfully applied in other regions of the world.
As we match education with labor markets and drive innovation in sectors that will propel growth in Africa, we must be of one mind and process when it comes to our creative capital and its protection.