Open A.I.R. network members Dr. Dick Kawooya and Prof. Jeremy de Beer spent the week of 19-23 May at the Geneva Headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), presenting their research findings on knowledge, innovation and intellectual property (IP) in Africa. Through seminar presentations and one-on-one discussions — on the sidelines of the Thirteenth Session of WIPO’s Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP/13) — Kawooya and De Beer were able to share their insights with representatives from WIPO, from other intergovernmental bodies, from WIPO Member State delegations, and from civil society organisations.
WIPO Seminar: Economics of Innovation in Africa’s Informal Sectors
Open A.I.R.’s work in Geneva began at a WIPO seminar (video link below) on the economics of innovation in Africa’s informal sectors. The seminar outlined the research findings from WIPO’s Project on Intellectual Property (IP) and the Informal Economy (IE), initiated in response to Recommendation 34 of the WIPO Development Agenda of 2007 (the recommendation that calls on WIPO “to conduct a study on constraints to intellectual property protection in the informal economy, including the tangible costs and benefits of intellectual property protection in particular in relation to generation of employment.”) On the basis of their Open A.I.R. work on innovation and IP in the informal economy, De Beer and Kawooya participated in the WIPO advisory group supporting this research project. And De Beer, along with researcher Kun Fu and WIPO economist Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, co-authored the project’s conceptual study.
At the seminar, De Beer highlighted linkages between the WIPO and Open A.I.R. research. “What is fascinating about being able to work on both of those projects was the ability to draw comparisons across studies that were highly complementary,” De Beer told the seminar. According to the project’s independent Final Evaluation Report, WIPO’s partnering with outside experts, including Open A.I.R. researchers, “was important and allowed for the sharing of ideas on topics and project design,” and the advisory group (through which Kawooya and De Beer contributed) “has been a key part of the project’s success through ensuring that the requirements of Recommendation 34 were addressed.”
Open A.I.R. Side Event: Empirical Research on IP in Africa
The centerpiece of Open A.I.R.’s work at WIPO Headquarters came on Thursday 22 May, when the project convened a CDIP side event. The event focused on the empirical research findings in Open A.I.R.’s two new books: Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa (UCT Press, 2013) and Knowledge and Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future (Open A.I.R., 2013). The books (free downloads here) are the work of dozens of members of the Open A.I.R. research network, from a range of disciplines and working in 14 African countries, who conducted empirical fieldwork across some of Africa’s most important domains of innovation. Based on qualitative and quantitative data collected through surveys, interviews, focus groups, workshops and other participatory techniques, the research uncovered the ways in which IP rights can impact openness and collaboration among innovators in Africa — now and in the future.
Open A.I.R.’s Dr. Kawooya, who contributed to both books, provided seminar participants with an outline of the origins of Open A.I.R.’s empirical research on IP in Africa. Speaking after the event, Kawooya stated that “Open A.I.R. and its predecessor, the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge Project (ACA2K), have not only contributed to the study of IP infrastructure in Africa. They have also contributed tremendously to capacity-building in this research area. A number of Open A.I.R. Fellowships have been awarded, some leading to doctoral studies, and some of Open A.I.R.’s scholars currently occupy important positions in Africa’s IP institutional infrastructure.” Attendees at the Open A.I.R. event viewed feature videos produced to provide overviews of the project's two books (video links below, from the Open A.I.R. Afrinnovation YouTube channel).
Also speaking at the side event was Herman Ntchatcho, Senior Director for Africa and Special Projects in WIPO's Special Projects Division. “Open A.I.R. has embarked on a very important endeavour,” said Ntchatcho. He added that the research is especially important as a means to encourage “countries to develop evidence-based policies and capacity-building activities.” And a Cameroonian delegate to the WIPO CDIP, in attendance at the Open A.I.R. event, called Open A.I.R.’s research “a very great step” that would “facilitate, in a very substantial manner, the work of the CDIP."
Another speaker was Ahmed Abdel Latif, Senior Programme Manager for Innovation, Technology and Intellectual Property at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), which helped to plan the side event. Abdel Latif is a former Egyptian diplomat and has been deeply involved in the WIPO Development Agenda process. According to Abdel Latif, speaking after the side event, “The valuable findings of the Open A.I.R. Project should inform the design of innovation policies and IP regimes in Africa, the work of African IP institutions, and technical assistance provided to African countries in this field, including legislative advice and training.”
Being present at WIPO during this important Thirteenth Session of the CDIP — the structure through which WIPO Member States are taking forward the Development Agenda recommendations — gave Kawooya and De Beer numerous opportunities to interact with the international diplomats and national-level policymakers serving in the African and other Member State delegations to the CDIP. In their consultations with these influential stakeholders, Kawooya and De Beer focused on raising awareness of the ways — as outlined in the aforementioned Open A.I.R. book of case studies, Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa — that IP can both facilitate and frustrate on-the-ground innovators in African settings. Open A.I.R. research was also discussed with representatives of intergovernmental and civil society organisations tracking the CDIP proceedings, including the South Centre, Third World Network (TWN) and Knowledge Ecology International (KEI).
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To find out how to collaborate with Open A.I.R., contact Project Manager Nan Warner, based at the IP Unit in the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law, on firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out ways to follow network activities and interact online with Open A.I.R. members, go to this website's home page and click on the "Join the Open A.I.R. Community" button.