Project Summary

Open A.I.R. Research & Training Themes

Copyrights: Empowering Collaborators in Creative Industries

Patents: Open Innovation for Cleaner Energy Technologies

Trademarks: Collective Agricultural Branding Strategies

Informal Mechanisms (Cross-Cutting Theme)

The Traditional Knowledge Commons (Cross-Cutting Theme)

Sharing the Benefits of Publicly Funded Research (Cross-Cutting Theme)

The Open A.I.R. research and training project, begun in 2011, seeks to foster policy and practical environments in which African innovators, creators and entrepreneurs turn knowledge into concrete practices that can transform economies and drive human development forward. The project hopes that, through its efforts and the efforts of other like-minded initiatives and groups, the intellectual property (IP) systems that govern knowledge in Africa can gradually be made to work better as tools for open innovation and collaborative creativity.

The 21st century has ushered in new modes of innovation and creation based on collaboration among interconnected networks of people, knowledge and resources, but research and capacity-building around IP systems have not kept pace with these trends. Open A.I.R. is seeking to fill this research and training gap.

The project's research to date has focused on empirical case studies of conditions across the African continent and with future-focused foresight research. In turn, the project has used its research findings to inform outreach and training targeted at African innovators, civil society and public- and private-sector leaders.

Polarised views on how IP facilitates or restricts innovation and creativity persist because there is little empirical research on this topic. Consequently, relevant actors tend to create or confront sub-optimal IP laws, policies and practices, all of which have the potential to impede development. This project has to date been doing work revolving around the following two interrelated hypotheses in relation to IP and development in Africa:

  1. African innovation and creativity are not properly valued by current IP-related metrics; and
  2. African innovation and creativity are being constrained by sub-optimal IP-related policies and inefficient IP-related practices.

Open A.I.R. ultimately aims to determine how Africans can harness existing or potential IP systems to measure and facilitate innovation and creativity for more participatory, effective and just models of “open” development. The project’s short-term objectives are:

  • to raise problem awareness and facilitate critical policy engagement; and
  • to empower a networked, epistemic IP community in Africa:

In the longer-term, the following outcomes are sought:

  • changed discourse and behaviour that engenders fewer bottlenecks and more collaboration; and
  • re-configured IP-related valuation metrics, capital and power structures.

Between 2011 and 2014, the project pursued a two-pronged research methodology:

  1. landscaping case studies; and
  2. future foresighting exercises.

Qualitative case studies have been conducted on topics linked to copyrights, patents, trademarks, informal protections, the traditional knowledge (TK) commons and IP from publicly funded research.

Meanwhile, the foresight research component has been a collaborative effort, by project researchers and key stakeholders, to determine drivers of change and to identify and dissect possible scenarios for the future.

The project’s training components aim to build capacity among researchers, policy/issue leaders and grassroots stakeholders -- including innovators, creators and entrepreneurs. The training comprises seminars and workshops, the Open A.I.R. Research Fellowships programme, and development/delivery of a new course curriculum focused on IP and development.

Implementing and Funding Partners


University of Cape Town (UCT) IP Unit

The UCT IP Unit, in the Faculty of Law, assists in developing IP law and policy in Africa and aims to contribute to the manner in which this topic is treated in the emerging and developing countries throughout the world. The Unit's work is premised on the belief developing countries must participate in the evolution of intellectual property policy and law in order to ensure that any changes take full account of the needs of emerging economies. The Unit seeks to work through dialogue, research, debate and capacity-building, and to explore the issues faced by society at large, IP holders and consumers/users.


University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

The University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, the largest law school in Canada and offering programmes in both English and French, is strategically located at the locus of Canadian national lawmaking in Canada's capital city. The Faculty hosts the Centre for Law, Technology and Society, which aims to research, analyse and shed light on the complex and interdependent relationships between law, technology and society. A joint initiative of the Common Law and Civil Law Sections of University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, this centre for research, student training and knowledge dissemination brings together independent scholars and professors interested in the Centre’s strategic areas of research, which include a variety of subjects relating to law and technology, such as information technology; intellectual property; biotechnology; bioethics; science, technology and society; human rights; governance and public policy; enabling technologies and e-transactions; digital media and communications; safety and security; privacy and access to information; and traditional knowledge.


International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Crown corporation set up by the Parliament of Canada in 1970 to support developing countries in using science and technology to find solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems. IDRC’s support is directed towards creating local research communities whose work can build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.


German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) develops the guidelines and the fundamental concepts on which German development policy is based. It devises long-term strategies for cooperation with the various players concerned and defines the rules for implementing that cooperation. These are the foundations for developing shared projects with partner countries and international development organisations. All efforts are informed by the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve poverty in the world by 2015. The BMZ commissions the German implementing organisations with executing programmes, and monitors the results of their work.


Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

GIZ supports people and societies in developing, transition and industrialised countries in shaping their own futures and improving living conditions. Established on 1 January 2011, GIZ brings together under one roof the expertise of the Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst (DED) (German development service), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) (German technical cooperation) and InWEnt – Capacity Building International, Germany. As a federally owned enterprise, GIZ supports the German Government in achieving its objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development. GIZ is also engaged in education work around the world. The Open A.I.R. Project’s training component is being carried out in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), through its initiative entitled “commons@ip - Harnessing the Knowledge Commons for Open Innovation.” The commons@ip initiative focuses on interactions between IP rights and open innovation, the knowledge commons, open licences and collaborative innovation. It is part of the BMZ-mandated Train for Trade programme, which aims at strengthening the private sector and its constituent bodies in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region through capacity building and training in export promotion, quality control and promotion of open innovation –- as well as through promotion of local/regional economic development and local/regional trade.