Africa: Policymakers Head To Zimbabwe For A WIPO Confab On Fourth Industrial Revolution

In collaboration with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) and the Organisation africaine de la propriété intellectuelle (OAPI) with the support of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the Government of Zimbabwe, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is organising a conference on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Value Addition for Business Competitiveness in Africa.

It will be holding from November 5 through 8 in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.

Participants will explore: The challenges and opportunities for Africa in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; Ways to harness the potential of universities and research institutions as generators of new knowledge and IP assets; and How to encourage the business community, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), to embrace innovation and IP in support of national economic growth.

The conference is expected to produce a draft five-year roadmap and action plan on effective use of IP and innovation to establish an advanced innovation ecosystem in Africa for further consideration and possible adoption by ARIPO and OAPI.

Interestingly, universities and research institutions, as well as knowledge-based SMEs, are the backbone of economic activity in most countries. Those who know better say these actors have a critical role to play in transforming African economies and in making them more competitive globally.

Their ability to innovate and to develop frontier technologies and knowledge are central to boosting Africa’s ability to fulfill more of its needs and to produce and export high-value products and services and thereby establish itself as a global economic player.

More and more, policymakers in Africa are recognising the critical role of universities, research organizations and SMEs as producers of new knowledge to address local needs. They also acknowledge the need to strengthen links between academia and business to ensure research programs generate outputs that are relevant and useful to society.

Policies that encourage active use of IP rights to protect and leverage the economic value of the new technologies, products and processes that these important actors generate – for example, through licensing and startup schemes – will enable them to secure sustained research funding and promote business growth.

By linking IP and innovation, policymakers have an opportunity to create favorable settings for African businesses to compete in global markets. The emergence of companies like Sasol in South Africa and MPESA in Kenya attest to this. The experiences of certain Asian countries also offer interesting insights about how to achieve sustained economic growth by encouraging the generation, acquisition and use of IP.

For example, 60 years ago, the Republic of Korea was poorer than Mozambique. However, its commitment to innovation and the strategic use of IP has enabled it to emerge as a leading economy. The Republic of Korea’s experience highlights what can be achieved when governments adopt a long-term and deliberate focus on innovation, and strategic use of IP to build on a country’s strengths.

As traditional generators and disseminators of knowledge, in general, the research activities of universities and research institutions are concentrated upstream in innovation value chains. In contrast, SMEs tend to focus downstream, adapting and applying new knowledge to produce goods and services that the market can consume.

To create optimal conditions for knowledge generation and its subsequent commercialization, policymakers need to address many challenging questions. For example, to what extent should universities and research institutions operate downstream on commercialization issues to ensure the relevance of their work? What support mechanisms (policy incentives and structures) are required to increase both upstream and downstream activities to serve society? How can universities support efforts to upgrade technological and manufacturing capabilities of African countries? What type of support should SMEs receive to encourage them to embrace innovation? How can countries strengthen academia and industry linkages and encourage them to use the IP system?

The Executive Director of African Centre for Technology Studies and Chairman of the Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Tom Peter Migun Ogada, and the Managing Director of Bigen Global Limited in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, McLean Sibanda, have been arguing that consideration needs to be given to ways to encourage academia, industry and governments to work together to improve awareness of the economic benefits that can flow from strategic use of Intellectual Property (IP).

Such collaboration, according to them, ‘’is central to justifying and securing research funding, and is particularly important in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in ensuring that research programs are relevant to local and future needs. Such collaboration also promises to deepen understanding of the implications for innovation and IP of the on-going digital transformation.

‘’This will enable African countries to take advantage of potential opportunities and to anticipate and mitigate the challenges arising from the rapid deployment and uptake of advanced digital technologies. Only by working together will it be possible to encourage broader use of IP to boost business development and competitiveness.

‘’The goal, of course, is to ensure that academic and research institutions in Africa become part of a fully integrated national innovation ecosystem, where all players, including businesses, are embracing innovation to create the technologies required to address societal needs and challenges.

‘’The creation of opportunities for decent employment and heightened global competitiveness are critically important by-products of this process. How successful we are in achieving this goal will determine how far Africa will be able to increase its share of global IP production in a rapidly evolving technological and economic landscape.

‘’Today, there is a pressing need for dialogue to support the development of an African roadmap for IP and innovation. Such a roadmap will give added impetus to efforts across the continent to improve employment prospects and living standards by leveraging Africa’s wealth of talent in an era of rapid technological transformation.’’

In recognition of the importance of these issues, WIPO and its partners are hosting an international conference on IP, innovation and value addition for business competitiveness in Africa, in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The event is an opportunity for policymakers to exchange views on how to use the IP system to create an enabling environment for socio-economic, scientific and technological development in Africa. The discussions will result in a draft five-year roadmap and action plan on effective use of IP and innovation to establish an advanced innovation ecosystem in Africa for further consideration and possible adoption by ARIPO and OAPI.

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