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URSB to demystify Intellectual Property in Uganda

The government will over the coming months work to demystify the mystery surrounding intellectual property in Uganda according to a top official from the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB).

While closing an event during which two books on intellectual property were launched on Oct.28 in Kampala, Judy Obitre-Gama, the board secretary of URSB— the government agency in charge of regulating issues of intellectual property— said government is doing this to encourage innovation in the country.

Innovation, she said, is one of the key aspects of Vision 2040 which is the government’s blue print for guiding the country from a backward and poor country to a middle-income and prosperous nation.

Obitre said URSB has over the last few months trained members of Uganda’s judiciary, the academia and law enforcement officers to demystify the subject of intellectual property.

Intellectual property (IP) is defined as one’s idea, invention or process that is derived from one’s mind or intellect. Most countries have legal provisions to protect such works to ensure that the owners benefit from their creations, however, infringements are common.

“Protection [of people’s innovations] is important because it encourages innovators to spend time and other resources well knowing that once their products are out, they will benefit from their creation,” Obitre said.

She said although there is a lot of literature on intellectual property around the world, little is readily available on local scenarios. This is why, Obitre said, URSB is excited about the Open AIR research findings on intellectual property.

The books were launched by a research network called Open African Innovation Research and Training (Open A.I.R) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).

The network involves 48 researchers from 14 African countries working across four hubs in Lagos, Cairo, Nairobi and Cape Town.

The two books have some of the key findings from Ugandan research providing links between the formal and informal automotive engineering sectors—specifically Makerere University’s work with the informal sector auto parts artisans [Kiira EV electronic car project].

Lady Justice Lillian Tibatemwa of the Uganda Court of Appeal who was the chief guest at the book launch noted that if African countries are to benefit from intellectual property, there is need to prioritize collaboration as well as openness because this will allow adaptation in the first changing African environment but also feed into Africa’s well known communal system.

Tibatemwa launched the two books entitled, “Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa,” and “Knowledge and Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future.”

The first volume outlines 13 case studies of innovation and intellectual property practices across nine African countries while the second book provides three scenarios for the future of IP management and knowledge governance on the continent.

The two books cover findings from Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa, 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 including copyrights, patents, trademarks, geographic indications and trade secrets, as well as traditional and information mechanisms of knowledge governance.

According to the researchers, one of the images 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.

Dr. Dick Kawooya, a Ugandan assistant professor based at the University of South Carolina explored the extent to which Ugandan universities engage with the informal sector where most of the Ugandans are found.

He conducted research into innovation transfers between formal-sector academic staff at Makerere University and informal-sector automotive artisans in Kampala.

Kawooya found a key site for these interactions at Gatsby Garage, which is linked to Makerere’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) and which managed production of Makerere’s Kiira EV electronic vehicle prototype—one of the case studies featured in the third chapter of the first book, and is referenced in the second book as part of discussion of Open AIR’s “Informal-the New Normal” scenario for Africa in the year 2035.

According to Kawooya, African innovation and IP management in the year 2035 will most likely be driven by informal-sector innovations and by collaborations between informal innovators and formal counterparts.

In its range of studies across Africa, the researchers found that IP approaches on the continent often need to prioritize collaboration and openness—in keeping with the communal, collaborative character typical of African innovation practices, and in order to allow for adaptation to fast-changing African environments.

“Local artisans are interested in producing good quality work, cultivating loyalty and customer care and not IP issues such as patents, industrial designs,” said Jeremy De Beer, another lead researcher and professor of law from the University of Ottawa, Canada.

De Beer said the books are meant to stimulate debate about the ways in which intellectual property impact people.

He noted that the researchers were particularly motivated by looking at innovation models which fit with local realities.

“IP rights play an important role in creativity and innovation but carefully designing collaborative innovative mechanisms will go a long way in realizing benefits to everyone,” he said.

De Beer said laws and policies designed for other countries may not be suitable for local communities in Africa. He added that to stop the problem of copyright infringement, piracy and counterfeiting, there is need for more collaboration, sharing and cooperation amongst the innovators.

In order to achieve this, De Beer said, there is also need to bridge the informal sector with the established institutions.

Dr. Chidi Oguamanam, an Associate Professor of Law at Ottawa University noted that there is also need for African governments to translate the laws and policies they are making into practical ones through value chains.

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