A handsome book recently arrived on my crowded desk, demanding attention: it’s Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, edited by scholars Jeremy de Beer, Chris Armstrong, Chidi Oguamanam and Tobia Schonwetter. Published by the UCT Press in association with the IP Unit of the Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town (that’s what ‘UCT’ stands for) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), it’s one of those lovely books that you don’t have to buy since you can read it online or download it in its entirety – all 431 pages of it – by accessing its website here.
The publishers explain this project as follows:
In the global knowledge economy, intellectual property rights – and the innovations they are meant to spur – are important determinants of progress. But what does this mean for the nations of Africa? One view is that strong IP protection can facilitate innovation in African settings. Others say that existing IP systems are simply not suited to the realities of African innovators.
This book, based on case studies and evidence collected through research across nine countries in Africa, sheds new light on the complex relationships between innovation and intellectual property. It covers findings from Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa [it’s good to see the ‘big three’ economies – Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa – featured, though in an ideal world it would have been lovely to get the flavour of some of the more IP-affected Francophone countries too], across many sites of innovation and creativity including music, leather goods, textiles, cocoa, coffee, auto parts, traditional medicine, book publishing, biofuels and university research.
Various forms of intellectual property protection are explored: copyrights, patents, trade marks, geographical indications and trade secrets, as well as traditional and informal mechanisms of knowledge governance.
The picture emerging from the empirical research presented in this volume is one in which innovators in diverse African settings share a common appreciation for collaboration and openness. And thus, when African innovators seek to collaborate, they are likely to be best-served by IP approaches that balance protection of creative, innovative ideas with information-sharing and open access to knowledge. The authors, who come from a range of disciplines, are all experts in their fields, working together through the Open African Innovation Research and Training (Open AIR) network.
For the record [since, just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, when it comes to books there’s no such thing as a free launch either], this work was paid for by a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, with financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and in cooperation with GIZ.
While digging into this volume, this Kat discovered that Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa has a companion: it appears to be a sequel to the equally substantial Knowledge & innovation in Africa: scenarios for the future, by Shirin Elahi, Jeremy de Beer, Dick Kawooya, Chidi Oguamanam and Nagla Rizk, which you can access here. According to the same publisher:
This book is the product of three years of literature reviews, expert interviews and scenario-building exercises by the Open African Innovation Research and Training (Open AIR) network, which has members in 14 African countries. The authors trace the contours of knowledge and innovation in Africa from the founding civilisations to today’s current realities, and then set out the drivers of change that can be expected to shape innovation systems on the continent between now and the year 2035.
The volume then offers three plausible scenarios – elements of which are likely to emerge in various settings on the continent in the short- to medium-term. Each scenario raises different issues for control of, and access to, knowledge in Africa. The key insight for policymakers, business leaders, scholars and civil society is that the question is not whether intellectual property (IP) rights will be relevant in the future, but rather which rights will be most important in different scenarios.
These two titles between them add up to some refreshingly positive literature on what IP can offer Africa, and vice versa, and are a pleasant antidote to some of the depressing and patronising texts this blogger has encountered over the years, often written by people from outside the continent and with good intentions but who do not always have a good balance as between their knowledge of IP and their familiarity with Africa.
The IPKat team comprises David Brophy, Birgit Clark, Merpel, Jeremy Phillips, Eleonora Rosati, Darren Smyth, Annsley Merelle Ward and Neil Wilkof. Their blog can be read here.