The Africa IP Forum – a retrospective

[Reposted from infojustice, first published 18 March 2013]

The Africa IP Forum was held in South Africa on 25-27 February 2013.  Attendees were welcomed at a cocktail on the evening of 25 February and substantive discussions were held on 26 -27 February. There were 4 plenary sessions each complemented by 2 parallel sessions.  The following topics were discussed:

  • Promoting a development oriented IP system (plenary)
  • Achieving developmental objectives, building technological capacity in Africa
  • WIPO Development Agenda, what it means for Africa
  • Access to Affordable medicines, incentivizing local production of generic medicines in Africa (plenary)
  • Benefits of substantive examination of patents versus the depository system ( See commentary by David Cochrane on Afro-IP )
  • Facilitating R&D into disease that predominantly affect Africa
  • Bridging the knowledge gap in Africa: Role of Copyright Exceptions and Limitations (plenary)  (See commentary by Denise Nicholson on Afro-IP and on her  Copyright & A2K Issues newsletter)
  • Public Interest and Development Issues in IP enforcement
  • Achieving Food Security, Challenges and Issues in Africa
  • Challenges & Issues in Protecting Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources & Traditional Cultural Expression of Africa (plenary) (See commentary by Tracy Rengecas on Afro-IP )

The exclusion of discussion PAIPO from the agenda was unfortunate (see PAIPO at the Africa IP Forum: the elephant in the room) but it will be on the agenda at the AU May Summit to be held in May 2013.

For details of the speakers, see the Africa IP Forum Program. Some billed presenters and panellists were unable to attend (as occurs at most conferences) and other people were asked to step in to close these gaps. It was clear from all the plenary and parallel sessions that the cross-cutting nature of IP and the consequent involvement of numerous government departments results in a complex regulatory framework. This framework has to be carefully crafted and co-ordinated.  An underlying national IP policy would inform such collaboration and co-ordination. Drafting an IP Policy is a difficult task and many countries will require technical assistance. This makes role played by WIPO and individual experts/consultants critically important.  A list of countries that are currently benefitting from WIPO’s capacity building and technical assistance for IP policy formulation was given by Mr G Onyeama (Deputy Director-General, WIPO) in his Formal Opening Address of the Forum. It is commendable that WIPO is rendering such much needed assistance. However, several commentators have raised the need for transparency and the provision of details of the nature of advice/assistance given as well as information about the consultants WIPO retains for these tasks (See Nick Ashton-Hart’s op-ed entitled ‘Rebooting WIPO’). WIPO’s online roster of experts is a welcome first step in this direction but it does not provide the amount of detail being called for. Further, consultants are listed only with their permission, so the roster provides an incomplete picture. Whilst some of the consultants subsequently (self) publish their materials, not all of them do so, and WIPO would do well to publish these materials where it is not precluded from doing so by confidentiality and other issues. Doing so will lend credence to the policy formulation process and dispel any concerns about the nature, quality and substance of the advice given.  The provision of such information will also enable those who wish to critique or engage with a policy to do so.

The Forum ended on a high note, with some key issues having been vented. However, what will Forum participants do with the insights they gained at the Forum? Hopefully, those seized with policy formulation and legislative drafting will incorporate them into the policies and laws they draft and those who serve in advisory capacities will include these insights in the opinions they provide.

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