Members of the judiciary from the East African Community partner states have called for more efforts to strengthen Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection in the region.
Participants were Wednesday meeting during the ‘Sub-Regional Colloquium on Building Respect for Intellectual Property Rights for Judiciary, in Kigali.
The meeting was organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in partnership with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Community affairs (MINEACOM).
Addressing the participants on behalf of WIPO, Emmanuel Rugomboka said, through building respect for IP rights countries will be able to ensure increased innovations.
“African countries need to create an enabling environment for knowledge production, protection and exploitation for economic, social, cultural and technological development. And the first undertaking to do this is the building respect for IP rights,” he said.
Rugomboka explained that IP system creates the necessary legal environment for the protection, acquisition and transmission of intangible rights such as patents, utility models, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications.
“This plays a big role in the promotion of innovation and creativity. We can, then, safely argue that IP contributes to transparency of trade and return on investment by providing a guarantee of operation to the rights holder,” he noted.
Francois Kanimba, the minister for MINEACOM, challenged the participants to explore ways through which African countries can address Intellectual Property Rights issues in order to position themselves as real game changers for the continent, especially as the African economy continues to diversify further.
“It is a well-known fact that Africa has a weak, not to say underwhelming record on creating and protecting IP. In fact, according to WIPO, no African nation was among the top 20 countries for patent applications in 2013. The problem is how we address this now,” the minister said.
The Global Innovation Index (GII) indicates that the Sub-Saharan Africa region is performing well on the innovation front.
Since 2012, Sub-Saharan Africa has had more countries among the group of innovation achievers than any other region.
In 2016, there were nine African economies ranked in this year’s top 100 economies in the GII, including Rwanda.
However, experts said, as global economic slowdown threatens, it will be important for Africa to preserve its current innovation momentum. They said that helping innovators protect their intellectual property rights through incentives and support would be paramount.
Announcing national IP strategy
During the colloquium, the minister announced that government, with the support of WIPO, had started an elaboration of the National IP Strategy with the first draft expected to be available by June this year.
“Some of the commitments might be considered quick wins and will be delivered in the near future, but others will be challenging and may take the life of the strategy to make real progress. But, following the launch of this colloquium, the immediate focus of work will be the IP enforcement directive,” he said.
The minister noted that this will present a valuable opportunity to ensure that the ambitions of the strategy are properly reflected on large scale.
“In parallel with this there is an important strand of work to be done with the courts and enforcement agencies to improve reporting and recording of information, and work with IP rights owners to better understand the issues they face. This work will ensure policy decisions are made on the best available evidence,” he explained.
The colloquium, which ends today, drew participants, particularly judges, from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, and it sought to build respect for IP for judiciary and enhance the understanding of right-holders.