Experts Call for Free Information Exchange

Intellectual property (IP) experts and researchers have called for collaboration between the formal and informal sectors to facilitate the exchange of knowledge.

The call follows two study findings by the Open African Innovation Research and Training, or Open A.I.R, which pointed out that when innovators collaborate, they are likely to balance protection of creative and innovative ideas with information-sharing and openness to knowledge.

The studies, ‘Innovation and intellectual property: Collaborative dynamics in Africa’ and ‘Knowledge and Innovation in Africa: scenarios for the future’ were launched by Lady Justice Lillian Tibatemwa recently.

“The informal sectors, such as the ironsmiths in Katwe are doing innovation and they do not care about questions of protection under IP. Therefore, some of their ideas are stolen by those in the formal sector because of a vague collaboration,” said Moses Mulumba, the executive director of the centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).

Therefore, there is a need for a distinct and workable collaboration to make it easier to protect those in the informal sector. In his findings, Dr Dick Kawooya, a researcher with Open A.I.R, noted that the informal sector is set to be the drivers of change that will shape the innovations system on the continent between now and 2035.

The only missing link is access to knowledge to enable them enter, compete and benefit from the global economy. Kawooya conducted research into innovation transfers between Makerere University academic staff (formal sector) and the informal sector of automotive artisans in Kampala.

A key site for these interactions was found to be Kampala’s Gatsby garage, which is linked to Makerere’s college of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (Cedat). Although IP protection can facilitate innovation in African settings, existing IP systems are not suited to the realities of African innovators.

“It is not necessarily appropriate to think only about intellectual property protection. There is a risk that if Uganda adopts foreign laws and policies without questioning them, it could accidentally inhibit access to knowledge by creating an IP system that makes knowledge less accessible and more expensive,” said Prof Jeremy de Beer, one of the researchers on IP.

He explained his point by using Uganda’s 2013 Plant Varities Act, which dropped the provision of sharing seeds and practices between farmers after intense foreign pressure. This law is meant to protect agricultural biotechnical companies that engage in genetic modification of crops.

“Instead, foreign approaches were adopted without question and this has a risk of ignoring an important segment of Uganda’s population, the smallholder farmers in traditional communities. This shows the need to balance protection of innovations with free and open competition,” he said.

Source : The Observer

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